Thursday, May 3, 2018

Chaim Soutine: Flesh

"Carcass of Beef" by Chaim Soutine (Albright-Knox)
“Chaim Soutine: Flesh,” as blunt and emphatic as it might seem, is an elegant title for the current Jewish Museum Exhibit. Soutine remarked, “They say Courbet could give in his nudes all the character of Paris. I want to show all that is Paris in the carcass of an ox.” And that is what the Lithuanian Jewish immigrant, who studied art in Vilnius, proceeded to do in paintings with names like “The Donkey” ((1934), “Plucked Goose” (1933), “The Bull” (1940) and “Sheep Behind Fence” (1940). “Still Life with Rayfish” (1929) was based on a painting by Jean-Simeon Chardin (1725-6) and he paid homage to Rembrandt’s “Flayed Ox”(1655) in his own "Carcass of Beef" (1925)--as would, by the way, Francis Bacon in his "Figure with Meat" (1954). The curators remark, “Chaim Soutine still lifes embrace the modernist notion of gesture. Material and color are as much a subject of the art as the objects depicted.” His expressionistic work hovers on the edge of abstraction just in the way it does with nineteenth century painters like Van Gogh, but the intensity of the brushwork recalls the fauvist esthetic. Remember the fauves were referred to as wild beasts? Stendhal famously wrote The Charterhouse of Parma.  But Soutine, who legendarily found his subjects in abbatoirs, might have written a novel entitled The Slaughterhouse of Paris.

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