Soutine, Perhaps the Most Underrated Artist of the 20th century

In the FT (registration required), Jackie Wullschlager on Chaim Soutine and the exhibit at Pinacothèque de Paris gallery (Paris) (blurbs in French):


Who was Soutine? Two self-portraits here, “Auto-portrait au rideau”, where the young artist peers out shyly from a swathe of coats and scarfs, and “Grotesque”, where his irregular features, bulbous nose and fleshy lips are monstrously exaggerated and blurred into a Baconian image of violent despair, share a hungry, piercing look that attests both to physical wretchedness and an exalted, truth-seeking spirituality.

It is no accident that Soutine returned repeatedly to two types in his portraits: the pâtissier and the choir boy, purveyors of earthly and holy nourishment. Of the latter, this show has the wonderful example from the Obersteg Collection, “L’Enfant du Choeur”: cassock streaky red and white, delicate as filigree but brutal in its vitality against a sonorous blue; twisted face fragile, remote, vulnerable, without sentimentality as in all Soutine’s portraits. Rather, his art has an innocent gravity, its ringing contrasts and heavy layers redolent of Old Masters and of metaphysical longing.

Hunger, seriousness, lack of irony, all were legacies of the dirt-poor Hassidic upbringing, with its ban on graven images, from which Soutine fled. Arriving in Paris, he painted a plate of herrings, an open-mouthed fish swooning between a fork and a vase of flowers, a luscious red cabbage against a white jug, with the hallucinatory fervour of a man still starving.