Three hundred and sixteen

Le Garçon d’étage

1927 by Chaïm Soutine
Musée de l’Orangerie until January 2013

It is rare to discover an intriguing artist from the beginning of the 20th century that one has not previously heard of. So exposed are we to the pioneers of the various ‘new ways of painting’ that electrified Paris and the rest of the world, it is with relish and a sense of unearthing that one wandered through the extensive collection of Chaïm Soutine’s work on exhibition at Musée de l’Orangerie. Soutine was a Russian Jew who emigrated to Paris in 1913 to live among the many struggling artists of that era. It was not until after the First World War that Soutine’s work began to generate interest, when Paul Guillaume bought a large collection of paintings (who’s entire collection you can see in the rest of Musée de l’Orangerie). Soutine’s subjects are wonderfully varied – from landscapes with wild and struggling trees to brutally and colourific painted animal carcasses – but it is his portraits that show his sharp and humorous flair for portrayal most keenly. Each of his sitters (from the paying to the passing maid) have such an expression squeezed out of them, the sense we get of person is overwhelming. As Soutine has his trees terrific with movement, his figures positively quiver with their sense of purpose. Here we have the waiter, peevish with his duties, his face pinched in, and his body curved in a wave of movement with all his comings and goings. The expressive quality of Soutine’s paint carries the personality he embeds into the shapes of his sitter’s bodies, making his portraits arresting and ultimately conveying of person. Meeting these pictures is to gain a sense of the wonderful characters Soutine encountered.

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