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Chaim Soutine: Le Peintre Maudit

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.

“Chaim Soutine: Le Peintre Maudit”
Mon, Dec 14, 4:30pm and 6:30pm
The Jewish Cultural Center of San Miguel, THE JC3
Calle de Las Moras 47 (corner of Cinco de Mayo)
415 185 9191 or (for reservations)
130 pesos members/150 pesos non-members

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, suffering from an ulcer that eventually burst and caused his death in 1943, having to hide to avoid arrest by the Gestapo, Soutine emigrated to Paris in 1912. There he befriended artists Marc Chagall and Ossip Zadkine, the other peintre maudit and drinking buddy Amedeo Modigliani, and Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Cancer owes a lot to the Jewish painter’s vision.

The tormented 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. 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.”

Come and “meet” this extraordinary artist, whose visionary creative power not only exorcized his own pain, but also revealed the tragedies of a sick, distorted 20th century eroded by violence, war, and greed.


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