Landscapes in Chaim Soutine’s eyes

20 May

I hope the title sounds intriguing for I shall indeed focus on Soutine’s landscapes painted in late 1910s and early 1920s.

1923. Paysage by Soutine1923. Paysage, Soutine

Chaim Soutine, French painter of Belarusian Jew origin, was a very introverted person; he left only a few letters and no diaries. His life and character are enigma but with his paintings he showed far more than he ever could with letters. An Expressionistic painter, Soutine quickly developed a highly personal vision and painting technique. His rather different look on the world had left us with very sharp, crooked, twisted, strong and lavishing landscapes that depict the houses, trees, meadows and moors in a different way; the way Soutine saw them.

Soutine arrived in Paris in 1913. There he settled in Montparnasse, an artists community, and befriended Amedeo Modigliani, also a Jewish painter, who painted several portraits of him. Amedeo, ten years his senior, embraced Soutine with affection and became both his friend and a mentor. While Modigliani was particularly known for his portraits and nudes, Soutine found inspiration in classic paintings in European tradition, his early works being created under the influence of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet. He was particularly influenced by Rembrandt, as he painted several carcasses. However, he soon developed an individual painting style of his own, putting focus on shape, colour and texture over representation – something that served as a bridge between traditional art and Abstract Expressionism.

1923. Le Village by Soutine1923. Le Village, Soutine

While in Paris, Soutine lived completely penniless. In addition to that, he was obsessed with morbid memories of suffering and poverty of his childhood. He believed himself to be hounded by poverty and tried to hang himself; death seemed to be the only solution. These inner sufferings, both psychical and mental, caused him great nervousness and slowly deteriorated his health. Stomach ulcer, which would ultimately lead to his death, did not really come unexpected.

It’s a cliche to say Soutine was a tortured genius, but I feel that’s something all artist share. Still, he stays an enigmatic character and his paintings, expression of the pain and sadness he lived with, are here for us all, perhaps to understand what was going on in Soutine’s mind. He did leave us a diary; his paintings.

1921. Le Gros Arbre bleu by Soutine1921. Le Gros Arbre bleu, Soutine

The thing that instantly caught my attention concerning these paintings was this rather strange perspective and Soutine’s way of applying the paint; in thick and solid layer which makes the painting appear strong, vivid, clear and expressive. I just adore the way he played with perspective for it looks like something that came right from his head, isn’t that exciting?

Look at the tree in the painting above; it looks crooked, wicked and strange, as if the wind that blows its branches is bringing some bad news. The sky is gloomy; painted with sharp brush-strokes in solid layer. Shades of blue and green dominate the sky above this lonely yet mysterious landscape. Even the hills are painted with sharp brush strokes, in green and indigo colour with a hint of red, as if they were burning. Soutine’s landscapes are striking in their colour palette, strange perspectives and remarkable contrasts. If you look a the painting Paysage, the first one, you’ll notice the contrast between vivid blue and vivid green which, in addition to heavy layered coloures, gives the painting hectic and strange atmosphere, as if it was place where no peace, comfort or acceptance can be found.

1920. Les Maisons by Soutine1920. Les Maisons, Soutine

Houses on the painting Les Maisons appear crooked, tall, dark and frightening, like they are giants watching over you. To me, these houses, with their bumpy figures, dark colours and heavy coloured surrounding, resemble the empty souls; those windows look like eyes gazing hopelessly at the viewer, and mouths screaming for help; for salvation from their agony.

Soutin felt like a stranger in Paris where foreigners were overlooked. He often spent his days finding good landscapes to paint and he’d be very disturbed if somebody would observe him while painting. Sadly, his fears of poverty, bad memories and imperishable feeling of loneliness never ended. In fact, he ended his life as a poverty stricken escapee from Nazi regime, wondering through the forests, sleeping outdoors, in great pain, suffering from stomach ulcer and bleeding heavily. In 1943. he left his safe hiding place for Paris where he hoped he’d get medical help. Instead, he died for the surgery failed to save his life.

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