La Soubrette (Waiting Maid)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 46.5 x 40.5 cms
Date: c. 1933
Inscription: Signed b.r. 'Soutine'
Acquired in 2012 with the assistance of the 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
Focusing on a single subject in an unadorned background, Soutine depicts an anonymous, working-class figure in the uniform of her profession, with typically expressive and tactile brushwork. Working direct from the life, he captures an expression somewhere between weariness, wariness and submission, but draws attention to the maid’s inner life by underlining her individuality rather than reducing it. His virtuoso paint handling illuminates her white apron with a dazzling display of colour. This portrait relates to Soutine’s series of powerful character studies of pastry cooks, choirboys, boot boys, bell-boys and maids, dressed in the uniforms of their trade and depicted in exaggerated poses ranging from awkwardness to arrogance. However, from the 1930s onwards Soutine’s figure paintings became less frenzied and more meditative.
Born to a poor Jewish-Lithuanian family, Soutine drew from an early age, studying at the School of Fine Arts, Vilna (1910-13), and the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1913-15). He was closely associated with the group of foreign-born, predominantly Jewish artists, known as the ‘École de Paris’, the majority (among them Marc Chagall and Jacques Lipchitz) living and working together in the collection of studios known as La Ruche (‘the Beehive’) near the old Vaugirard slaughterhouses of Montparnasse in the early decades of the twentieth-century. Soutine’s oeuvre included densely-painted, visceral landscapes and an important series of Rembrandt-inspired beef carcasses painted in a characteristic, expressionistic style.
Born: 1893 Smilavichy, Lithuania
Died: 1943 Paris, France