Oil on canvas
81.3 x 78.7 cm. (32 x 31 in.)
frame: 105.3 x 103.6 x 4.7 cm (41 7/16 x 40 13/16 in.)
Signed lower right: Soutine
[Probably Léopold Zborowski, Paris]; sold to Albert C. Barnes, Merion, Penn., 1923. [possibly Galerie Crillon, Paris]. Richard Davis, New York, sold at auction, Modern and Contemporary Paintings…Collected by Richard Davis, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 13 Apr. 1944, no. 52 (as Chemin du Village); bought at auction by Billy Rose, New York; sold to Henry Pearlman, by 1951; Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, by 1971.
Soutine immigrated to Paris in 1913, and worked with a closely knit group of artists in the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse. Alongside his good friend Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine developed what was then a radical style of painting-animated, expressive, sometimes even grotesque. His subjects ranged from portraits to still-lives to landscapes.
In 1919, the dealer Léopold Zborowski underwrote Soutine’s trip to Céret, a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains, and the dramatic landscape inspired some of the artist’s most successful paintings. This view shows the Tins Ravine, named after the Catalonian term for the dye factories on the river.
I was once at the Museum of Modern Art when they had a Modigliani show, and while going through it I stopped in front of the Portrait of Jean Cocteau, which I had just purchased from the George Gard “Buddy” De Sylva Collection
I was once at the Museum of Modern Art when they had a Modigliani show, and while going through it I stopped in front of the Portrait of Jean Cocteau, which I had just purchased from the George Gard “Buddy” De Sylva Collection. It was to be delivered to me after the exhibition. While I was in front of the painting, a fellow sidled up to me and said, “I am Billy Rose, and I owned this painting at one time, but Buddy De Silva wheedled it out of me, and I am sorry I let it go,” adding that he was glad that I owned it. We struck up a nice friendship. Rose came to visit, looked over some of my art works, and invited me to his Beekman Place home. He took me all through his home; over the mantelpiece on an upper floor he had a Renoir that didn’t look good to me, and I asked him where he had gotten it, and whether he had any pedigree on it. He said no, but that a refugee had brought it over from Europe and sold it to him. We continued on through the house, and on the top floor, over a fireplace, was a Soutine landscape [“Gorge du Loup”], quite dark as a result of the smoke from the fireplace. Billy said, “I like this painting, but my wife doesn’t.” I told him that I liked it very much; he offered it, and I agreed to buy it.
He explained that he had purchased this painting at an auction some six or seven years earlier, for $1500, and he thought that due to inflation it now must be worth $2500, and he would be satisfied with that amount. I gave him a check for $2500, and took the painting to my office. The frame was quite poor, so I ordered a new frame, and had the painting cleaned while it sat in my office waiting for the frame. Subsequently, when I met Albert Barnes again, he asked me whether I knew of a Rembrandt for sale, as he would like to buy one. Billy Rose had mentioned to me that he had a Rembrandt that he would like to sell, so I told Barnes about it. He said he didn’t have the cash just then, so I offered to pay for the Rembrandt and exchange it with him for one of his Cézanne still lives.
Soon thereafter, Barnes came to my office with a colleague, and while there, he became very interested in the Billy Rose Soutine. He commented to me, “Henry, this is the best Soutine landscape I have ever seen – you can hang it next to a Tintoretto.” This remark made me quite pleased with my purchase; Dr. Barnes had originally made Soutine one of the popular artists in Paris galleries by buying his entire output.
As the visit by Barnes was for the purpose of going to Billy Rose’s home to see the Rembrandt, I made the appointment, Rose rushed home from his office, and the three of us went up to visit him. Billy was waiting for us downstairs in his large living room, and as we walked in, he introduced himself by saying, “So you are the terrible tempered Dr. Barnes!” At that remark Dr. Barnes’s hair stood on end, and his face turned colors. I am sure that if there hadn’t been a Rembrandt at stake, he would have crushed Billy. However, after a few minutes things became tranquil again. By way of making conversation, Barnes told Billy that he had just seen a great Soutine landscape, without going into particulars; as we were going upstairs to the next floor, Barnes starred to talk about the Soutine landscape again in wonderful terms. Rose then turned to me and said, “Henry, it looks like you made a good buy.” As we continued through the house from floor to floor, Barnes eventually saw the Renoir that I was suspicious of. He turned to Rose and said, “Now Billy, take this off the wall, it doesn’t belong in your collection.” Billy started to tell him about the refugee who sold it to him, and Barnes said, “You shouldn’t use your emotions when you are buying pictures.” Barnes was quite satisfied with the Rembrandt, and asked Billy to get him an infra-red photo of it. Within a week of this date, Barnes was tragically killed in an automobile accident.
My suspicions about the Renoir in Billy Rose’s home were later confirmed by Dr. Barnes and Violette de Mazia, his co-author, in a book they wrote about Renoir. It was interesting to read in the newspapers later that Celeste Holm was suing the Billy Rose estate on the grounds that the Renoir that Billy Rose left her in his will was a fake.
Billy Rose told me a story once about a New York dealer who sold him a group of old masters. Of course, these paintings had all kinds of pedigrees, and eventually Rose found out that some of them weren’t too good. He told me the story of inviting the dealer to see him, and after he sat him down, he took out a gun, put it on his desk and said, “I want you to take these paintings back with you, and give me a check fat what I paid for them.” The dealer agreed promptly.
Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)
Soutine was one of the leading figures of the early 20th-century international conglomerate of artists known as the School of Paris. He developed an idiosyncratic style that was derived from his study of Old Masters and infused with a modern sense of freedom, conveyed through pure color and boldly impastoed paint. The artist’s intense painterly manner influenced subsequent generations of painters, including Abstract Expressionists.
Soutine was born to an Orthodox Jewish family originally from Belarus and grew up in a Lithuanian ghetto. He was attracted to drawing at early age, and, despite protests from those in his community who believed in Talmudic proscriptions against images, he was determined to become an artist. He studied at a small academy in present-day Vilnius, where he learned about Russian art, including its avant-garde varieties. In 1913, Soutine moved to Paris, where he joined Fernand Cormon’s atelier. He found inspiration by studying in the Louvre directly from Old Masters such as Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Goya, and El Greco, as well as more recent masters such as Gustave Courbet.
In 1915, Soutine met Amedeo Modigliani through their mutual friend Jacques Lipchitz and soon became close to the Italian artist. Modigliani provided crucial encouragement to Soutine and included him in his infamous drinking sessions. As it was for Modigliani, portraiture was a significant subject for Soutine. The artist’s portraits often exaggerate certain features, including awkward poses and melancholy facial expressions, imparting an expressive urgency to his subjects. He sometimes worked on series of certain social types, making a number of versions of figures such as pastry cooks, bellboys, and choirboys dressed in their identifiable working clothes. The pathos evoked by such figures often suggested not only the subjects’ inner lives but also the weight of Soutine’s own gaze and feelings.
Soutine applied a similar kind of painterly intensity to his still-life paintings of food, which are often inflected with ritualistic overtones that allude to the artist’s religious upbringing, as well as traditional memento mori themes that relate to his own experience of enduring shortages of food while growing up. In 1918, Soutine was apparently encouraged by his dealer to travel to the Midi to pursue landscape painting. In Céret and its environs he painted dramatically contorted scenes of the land and towns. These paintings often had a visionary quality, featuring vortex-like spatial configurations and forceful brushwork. In 1923, the American collector Albert Barnes purchased approximately one hundred examples of Soutine’s work, bringing a sudden rise in prices and greater critical visibility, which allowed Soutine to support himself through his art for the rest of his life. During his final years, however, he suffered both from illness and from the consequences of hiding from the Nazis during their occupation of Paris and died of complications from surgery before the war was over.