13.01.1893, Smilovichi, Minsk Province (now Belarus) – 09.08.1943, Paris
The son of a tailor, Soutine drew from early childhood. He left for Minsk in 1909, worked as a retoucher and attended drawing lessons at the school of Yakov Kruger. From 1910 to 1913 he lived in Vilna (Vilnius) and studied at the art school. After moving to Paris in 1913, he attended the studio of Fernand Cormon at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1915 he met and became a good friend of Modigliani. He experienced poverty and earned money by working as a railway porter, an unskilled labourer and a decorator at a vehicle showroom. At the insistence of Modigliani, Léopold Zborowski became Soutine’s dealer in 1916. He accompanied Modigliani on a trip to Vence and Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France in 1918. From 1919 he lived for several years in Céret, not far from the Spanish border, painting more than 200 pictures there, but he destroyed most of them after returning to Paris in 1922. In 1922–23 the Philadelphia collector and patron Albert Barnes bought more than 50 of his works. In 1923–25 he became more and more interested in the art of the old masters and reproduced the images of Chardin and Rembrandt that he had seen in the Louvre. He was fascinated by Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride, which he saw while visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1925. His first solo exhibition took place in the gallery of Henri Bing in Paris in 1927. In 1928 the publishers Le Triangle released a monograph on the artist by Waldemar George.
After the death of Zborowski in 1932, Madeleine and Marcellin Castaing became Soutine’s patrons and main collectors. He spent the summers of 1930–35 with them in Lèves, near Chartres. Here he painted pictures based on motifs from Rembrandt, Corot and Courbet. He also took part in exhibitions by Russian artists in Parisian galleries. In 1930 his works were shown at an exhibition of Russian art in Belgrade, and in 1937 at the exhibition ‘Les Maîtres de l’art indépendant 1895–1937’ at the Petit Palais in Paris. A solo exhibition took place at the Arts Club in Chicago in 1935, and in 1937 there was an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London.
At the start of the Second World War he tried to volunteer for frontline service, but was rejected because of his health. He did not take up an invitation to emigrate to the USA, and spent the first months of the occupation in Paris. In 1941 Soutine’s parents died in the Smilovichi ghetto. From 1941, using forged documents, he lived with friends in a village near Chignon in the Vichy zone. He painted landscapes, portraits and farm animals.
After suffering from a stomach ulcer for several years, he was taken to Paris when it worsened, but the journey was too long and painful. He died of peritonitis in the hospital after an operation. F.B.