Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)

Russian painter Chaïm Soutine was born in Russia in 1893 and died in Paris, France, in 1943.

Find out more about Chaïm Soutine

Chaïm Soutine’s La Soubrette (Waiting Maid) acquired by Ben Uri 2012

Chaim Soutine La Soubrette

La Soubrette (Waiting Maid)

Soutine was born in Smilavichy, Russia (now Belarus) and died in 1943 in Paris, France. La Soubrette (Waiting Maid) – shown above – was painted in about 1933 and acquired by the Ben Uri in 2012.

The painting was acquired by the Ben Uri with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Miriam and Richard Borchard, Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly, Patsy & David Franks, Morven and Michael Heller, Joan and Lawrence Kaye (USA), Laura and Lewis Kruger (USA), Agnes & Edward Lee, Simon Posen (USA), The Marc Rich Foundation (Switzerland), Anthony Rosenfelder & family in honour of Marilyn, Jayne Cohen and Howard Spiegler (USA), and Judit & George Weisz.

Chaïm Soutine biography

Chaïm Soutine was probably born in 1893 (though his friends believed the date to be 1894), the tenth of eleven children, in the shtetl of Smilovichy, Russia (now in Lithuania) to a poor Jewish family.

He began drawing at an early age but was discouraged by his family. As a young teenager, Soutine flouted the prohibition on drawing faces, and when he drew the local Rabbi, was so badly beaten by the rabbi’s son that he received sufficient damages to go to Minsk.

He was accompanied by Kikoïne, and in 1910 they enrolled at the School of Fine Arts Vilna (now Vilnius), where they met Krémègne. Soutine proved an exceptional student, concentrating largely on tragic themes.


Soutine and Kikoïne arrived in Paris in 1913, joining Krémègne (who had arrived in 1912) at La Ruche, where they lived in conditions of extreme poverty; his neighbours included Chagall, Zadkine, Kisling, Laurens, Archipenko, Dobrinksy and others.

He studied in the Atelier Cormon at the École des Beaux-Arts, also visiting the Louvre and admiring work by the masters including Rembrandt and Goya.

In 1915 he was introduced by Lipchitz to Amedeo Modigliani with whom he developed a strong friendship. Modigliani made four portraits of Soutine and also introduced him to the dealer Léopold Zborowski.

First World War

During the First World War Soutine enlisted in the work brigades but was soon dismissed on health grounds, having developed the stomach problems which would later kill him.

He moved to the artists’ colony at Cité Falguière, where his neighbours included Lipchitz and Modigliani.

In 1918 he made his first visit to Cagnes, followed by Céret in 1919, where he worked predominantly for the next three years, producing densely-painted, visceral landscapes, which are among his most celebrated works and anticipate the later work of COBRA and the Abstract Expressionists.


In the mid-1920s, Soutine made an important series of paintings of beef carcasses executed in an expressionistic style, influenced by Rembrandt and the Old Masters, painted direct from decaying animal carcasses hung in his studio, which were later to influence Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

Characterized by his signature heavy, ‘convulsive’ brushwork, portraiture also occupies an important place within Soutine’s oeuvre from the 1920s onwards. His powerful character studies, which include pastry cooks, choirboys, boot boys, bell-boys and maids, dressed in the uniforms of their trade and often depicted in exaggerated poses ranging from awkwardness to arrogance, which distinctly evoke the individual personalities of their sitters.

In his early years Soutine endured poverty, ill-health and depression, which sometimes led him to destroy his work. In 1922, however, the American collector Alfred C. Barnes discovered Soutine’s work on a trip to Paris; his first purchase was The Pastry Cook, and he went on to acquire 52 paintings for prices between $15 and $30.

This was the start of Soutine’s commercial success as an artist and by 1926 prices for his work had risen steeply. Soutine’s paintings were shown in New York from 1927 and he also exhibited in various group shows across Europe, enjoying commercial and critical success in the 1930s.

From 1923-25 he mainly worked in Paris and Cagnes; he held first solo exhibition at Galerie Bing in 1927. In 1928 Waldemar George published the first monograph on Soutine as part of ‘les artistes juifs’ series, followed by Elie Faure’s monograph in 1929. From now on Soutine worked mainly in Paris, spending the summers at Lèves, near Chartres, the home of Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing, who become his patrons after Zborowski’s death in 1932.

Later life

From 1941, using a false identity card, Soutine sought refuge from occupied Paris in the village of Champigny-sur-Veuldre in Touraine. In 1943, suffering from a rapid decline in his health, Soutine travelled to Paris with his companion Marie-Berthe Aurenche, and died on 9 August 1943 during an operation for perforated stomach ulcers. He is buried in Montparnasse cemetery.

External links

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