Exhibition: Chaïm Soutine. Against the Current (16.8.–1.12.2024) | Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition: Chaïm Soutine. Against the Current (16.8.–1.12.2024) | Kunstmuseum Bern

Chaim Soutine. Against the Current


Between 16 August and 1 December 2024 the Kunstmuseum Bern is devoting the major retrospective Chaim Soutine. Against the Current to the painter Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). His expressive and vividly coloured paintings address the existential dimension of life and are at the same time a pure artistic experiments. The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen in Dusseldorf and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebsk, Denmark.

Exhibition: Chaïm Soutine. Against the Current (16.8.–1.12.2024) | Kunstmuseum Bern
1. Chaïm Soutine. Le tzigane, 1926
Oil on canvas. 46 × 38 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst, Kopenhagen. Photo: open.smk.dk, public domain
2. Chaïm Soutine. Glaïeuls, 1919
Oil on canvas. 56 × 46 cm. Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, collection Jean Walter et Paul Guillaume. Photo: bpk / RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski
3. Chaïm Soutine. Paysage de Cagnes, 1923/1924
Oil on canvas. 60 × 73 cm. Kunstmuseum Bern, Bequest of Georges F. Keller 1981. Photo: Kunstmuseum Bern

Chaim Soutine is one of the great painters of classical modernism. His works show swaying landscapes, slaughtered animals and people from the lower strata of society; his models were pages, chambermaids, cooks and altar- boys. The vividly coloured paintings address the existential, vulnerable dimension of life and bear impressive witness to a precarious existence on the margins of society.

The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern comprises some 60 works from all periods of the artist's career, including six works from the Kunstmuseum's own collection (all from the legacy of Georges F. Keller), as well as international loans from institutions such as the Musee d'Orsay et de l'Orangerie and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Tate, London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It shows works from the genres characteristic of Soutine - portraits, landscapes and still lifes - and focuses on the first decades of his career.

Declarations of love to life
Soutine's paintings are impetuous explosions of colour, and at the same time demonstrate dramatic vulnerability. They are declarations of love to life and to the people at the lowest level of society - an experience that Soutine shared through his own biography. His empathetic and raw portraits of simple people, his energetic, colourful landscapes and the mysterious still lifes of slaughtered animals reflect a whole era and a generation marked by war, social abuse and the remorseless conflict of religious and political views of the world.

Against the current
Chaim Soutine grew up in a Jewish Orthodox family in a small town near Minsk in present-day Belarus. In 1913, at the age of 20, he travelled to Paris, which was to become his second home. Even so, he remained an outsider throughout his life, with a poor command of the language at first, and an ignorance of socially acceptable manners. The experience of flight and migration that profoundly shaped Soutine's life is apparent in his works. His few close friends included the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.

While many of his contemporaries engaged with abstraction, Soutine's painting was figurative, extremely vivid and expressive. His works are marked by a powerful, restless line that gives his paintings an incomparable expressive force.

The 'artist's artist'
The exhibition in the Kunstmuseum Bern has the aura of a journey of discovery: even though Soutine is treated as one of the most important modern artists, and represented in many major museum collections, his work is less well known than for instance that of his friend and colleague Amedeo Modigliani or that of Marc Chagall. His influence on painting after 1945 can be seen among the representatives of Abstract Expressionism, the CoBrA group of artists and the School of London, which chose Soutine as an inspiring model. Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and above all Francis Bacon are his best-known admirers. But also contemporary artists like Dana Schutz, Leidy Churchman, Amy Sillman, Emma Talbot, Thomas Hirschhorn, Chantal Joffe and Imran Qureshi name Soutine as a key figure in their artistic biographies. In a film produced specially for the exhibition these seven artists provide an insight into their fascination with Soutine. In 2020-21 Soutine assumed contemporary symbolic status in the democratic protests in Belarus, which were later crushed by repression.

With the major retrospective Chaim Soutine. Against the Current, the Kunstmuseum Bern would like to make this extraordinary painter accessible to a wide audience.

The opening of the exhibition will take place on Thursday, 15 August 2024, from 6.30 pm.
Admission to the exhibition is free on this evening.

Guided Tours in English
Sunday 10 October 2024, 11:30-12:30

Anne-Christine Strobel
With the support of
Kanton Bern, Ruth & Arthur Scherbarth Stiftung, Ursula Wirz-Stiftung, UNIQA, Bundesamt fQr Kultur, Minerva Kunststiftung, Dr. Georg und Josi Guggenheim- Stiftung, Verein der Freunde Kunstmuseum Bern

Catalogue Chaim Soutine
Published by Susanne Gaensheimer and Susanne Meyer-Buser
With contributions by Claire Bernardi, Marta Dziewanska, Susanne Meyer-Buser, Sophie Krebs, Pascale Samuel, Catherine Frerejean
German edition: ISBN 978-3-7757-5540-5 English edition: ISBN 978-3-7757-5541-2
176 pages, 155 illustrations, 28,2 x 22,6 cm
2023: Hatje Cantz

Exhibition: Chaïm Soutine. Against the Current (16.8.–1.12.2024) | Kunstmuseum Bern



Chaim Soutine is born in Smilovitchi near Minsk, now part of Belarus, as the 10th of 11 children. Smilovitchi is a shtetl with a predominantly Jewish population. Soutine grows up in poverty in a strongly religious environment and speaks Yiddish as his mother tongue. Soutines father is a repairing tailor and wishes his son to become a craftsman as well. Soutine, however, resolves to dedicate his life to painting.

Soutine travels to Minsk to take drawing classes. In 1910, he draws a portrait of an Orthodox Jewish man, thereby violating Judaism's prohibition on images. Soutine is gravely assaulted by the man's sons. For this, his parents receive monetary damages, which finance their son's education at the art school in Vilnius.

Soutine makes the multiple-day train journey from Vilnius to Paris, at that time Europe's capital of art. He lives in the studio community La Ruche in Montparnasse.
In the summer, he enrolls at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris. Soutine is impressed by the city, and especially by the Louvre's art collection. His initial period in Paris is characterised by hunger, illness and deprivation.

On 4 August 1914, the First World War breaks out. As an immigrant, Soutine is not called up to serve. He volunteers, but, due to a stomach ailment, is rejected.
Soutine moves to the artists' residence of Cite Falguiere and strikes up a close friendship with Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), who also grew up in a Jewish family.

Soutine mainly paints still lifes, only a few of which have survived. Modigliani persuades his art dealer, Leopold Zborowski, to sign a contract with Soutine. In exchange for the exclusive rights to his works, Soutine receives a modest daily allowance.
In March 1918, German troops bombard Paris. At the urging of Zborowski, Soutine and Modigliani travel south to Vence and Cagnes-sur-Mer at the Cote d'Azur.

Zborowski sends Soutine to Ceret, a small town in the Pyrenees. He paints numerous landscapes and portraits of the town's inhabitants, including Le Patissier, with which he was to achieve his breakthrough.

In January in the south of France, Soutine is shocked to learn of Modigliani's death.
During a visit from Zborowski, Soutine sets fire to several paintings he no longer likes. Zborowski manages to save some of them.

At the end of 1922, Soutine returns to Paris with around 20 works. He destroys many of them in subsequent years.
American art collector Albert C. Barnes visits Paris in the winter of 1922/1923 in search of works for a collection he wants to establish in Philadelphia. He is thrilled with Le Patissier and buys this and 51 other works by Soutine at a price of 15-30 dollars apiece. News of the unusual success story spreads quickly throughout Paris.

In January, French art dealer Paul Guillaume publishes the first article about Soutine in the journal Les Arts a Paris.
Barnes organises an exhibition of Soutine's work at Guillaume's gallery and subsequently shows his acquisitions at an exhibition of European art in Philadelphia.
Soutine spends much of the next two years in Cagnes in the south of France. Here, he creates further portraits of pastry chefs and numerous landscapes.
In a letter to Zborowski that same year, he writes that he is in a poor state of mind and that he is lonely in Cagnes. However, he only returns to Paris two years later.

Barnes's purchases increase Soutine's value in the art market, giving him both financial independence and artistic recognition.
He begins his series of still lifes with stingrays.

Soutine moves into his own apartment near Rue du Saint-Gothard, where his large studio is located. From this time on he moves lodgings several times a year.
Soutine has a daughter, Aimee, with Deborah Melnik, whom he knows from his art studies in Vilnius. However, he never acknowledges the daughter as his.
He travels to Amsterdam to study Rembrandt's works at the Rijksmuseum. He begins his series of choirboys, bell boys and slaughtered oxen.

Polish-born art critic Waldemar George writes about Soutine in the journal L'Amour de I'art. His fame grows and his works now fetch high prices at auction.
Due to his continuing stomach problems, Soutine regularly visits a spa in Chatel-Guyon in Auvergne between 1926 and 1928. Here, he meets the interior designer Madeleine Castaing and her art critic husband Marcellin. They develop a close friendship, and Soutine paints her portrait.

Soutine's first solo exhibition takes place at Galerie Henri Bing in Paris. He feels uneasy around people and does not attend the opening.
Thanks to Barnes, his work is shown in group exhibitions in New York and other cities in the United States.

Waldemar George publishes the first monograph on Soutine in the series Artistes juifs at Editions Le Triangle in Paris in 1928. The year after, the art historian Elie Faure's monograph comes out.
In 1929, Soutine paints the series L'Arbre de Vence.

The global economic crisis weakens the Parisian art market. Zborowski is no longer able to represent Soutine. The Castaings become Soutine's patrons. Up until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he often stays with them in Leves in the Centre-Val de Loire region.
Leopold Zborowski dies in 1932. His wife, Anna, sells his entire collection. 1935
The first comprehensive exhibition of Soutine's work in the United States takes place at the Art Club of Chicago.
In Paris, 10 of his works are shown in the exhibition Peintres instinctifs. Naissance de I'expressionnisme.
Sullivan Gallery and Valentine Gallery, who also represents Piet Mondrian, organise solo exhibitions by Soutine in New York.

At the artists' hangout Cafe du Dome in Montparnasse, Soutine meets German-Jewish refugee Gerda Groth, nee Michaelis. She takes him in and he calls her Mademoiselle Garde. Together they move into Villa Seurat in the 14th arrondissement.
In London, Leicester Gallery shows a retrospective exhibition of Soutine's work. Petit Palais in Paris shows 12 of his works in the exhibition Les Maitres de I'art independant.
Severe stomach pains prevent Soutine from working.

When the Second World War breaks out, Soutine is living with Gerda Groth in the village of Civry in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region. Both are registered as refugees and are forbidden to leave the town. Upon being granted a special medical certificate, Soutine is able to travel to Paris.

During the summer, German troops occupy Paris. Anti-Jewish restrictions and violent attacks become increasingly common. In May, the German army transports Gerda Groth to the Gurs internment camp in the Pyrenees, where she is kept for three months. Soutine never sees her again.
In Paris, Soutine meets his future partner, the painter Marie-Berthe Aurenche (1905-1960).

Soutine stays in Paris illegally but is afraid to leave the capital for fear that he will not be able to get the milk he needs for his diet in the free zone. He is forced to wear the Star of David.
Soutine and Aurenche manage to obtain forged papers to take refuge in Champigny, near Chinon in the Centre-Val de Loire region.

Soutine's health deteriorates drastically. After a risky three-day journey, he is transferred to a hospital in Paris. Soutine undergoes emergency surgery for a perforated stomach ulcer, but dies two days later on 9 August.
Fellow artists Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) along with the poet Max Jacob (1876-1944) are among those who attend Soutine's funeral at Montparnasse cemetery on 11 August 1943.



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