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“Chaim Soutine: Le Peintre Maudit” expressionism and the fever of distortion

By Béa Aaronson

After a brief introduction on the existential dimension of Expressionism, I shall unravel for you the heart-wrenching story of Chaim Soutine, “The Cursed Painter” of 20th century Art History. It is a story bathed in blood red!

“Chaim Soutine: Le Peintre Maudit”
Expressionism and the fever of distortion
Wed, Apr 3, 4:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45 (off Refugio Sur)
120 pesos
Please make your reservations early

Born in 1893, into an utterly poor Jewish family in Smilovitchi near Minsk -modern day Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire–Chaim Soutine was the 10th of 11 children. His father was not even a tailor, but a clothes mender.

Beaten to a pulp by his own brothers when he was drawing–the making of images was forbidden by Hassidic Jewish Law- he left his native shtetl for Vilna in order study art. In 1912 he emigrated to Paris and befriended Chagall, Zadkine and Modigliani, the other peintre maudit and his drinking buddy! Soutine also met Henry Miller whose Tropic of Cancer owes a lot to the Jewish painter’s vision.

Isolated and tormented, Soutine once said that he was going to murder his paintings: “All that you see here is not worth anything. It is crap, even if it is better than the paintings of Modigliani and Chagall…Someday I am going to murder my paintings – although these are too contemptible even for that.” If his work displeased him, he would run into the kitchen, pick up a knife and slash at the canvas. He would even buy back some of his paintings to “kill” them! But fortunately for us most of his masterpieces are still with us.

Soutine looked uncouth and tattered most of his life. Before Dr Barnes bought all of his work and made him a prosperous artist, Soutine lived in total squalor, eating sardines and keeping paraffin oil burning all around his bed to ward off bed bugs and cockroaches.

His images are metaphors for Jewish and all human suffering. His flayed rabbits, plucked birds, dead fowls, dead herrings, slabs and carcasses of beef, are icons of inner torment, baring the inner wound for all to see. Soutine horrified his neighbors by keeping an animal carcass in his studio so that he could paint it. The stench drove them to send for the police, whom Soutine promptly lectured on the relative importance of art over hygiene!

Even his portraits, flowers and landscapes bespeak of suffering, oozing wormlike brush strokes of wounded flesh and decomposing earth. They destabilize, they hurt, they have no structure on which you can rest your gaze. When one looks at them, on a more joyful note, one can understand the old joke of Modigliani describing his own drunkenness: “Everything dances around me as in a painting by Soutine.”

As Word War II approached, Soutine had to hide in order to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He moved from one place to another and was sometimes forced to seek shelter in forests, sleeping outdoors.

Suffering from a stomach ulcer and bleeding badly, he left a safe hiding place for Paris in order to undergo emergency surgery, which failed to save his life. On August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died of a perforated ulcer and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Come and meet this extraordinary artist, whose visionary power unleashed the tragedies of a sick 20th century, eroded by violence, war and greed.

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