Tag Archives: Amedeo Modigliani

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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Consumption – A Romantic Disease

17 May

‘I should like to die from consumption.’ said Lord Byron, helping to popularize tuberculosis as an artist’s disease.

In the nineteenth century consumption was such a popular disease that it was dubbed The White Plague, mal de vivir and mal du siecle. It gained popularity in Romantic era, due to Lord Byron, and was seen as a sign of sensitivity, spiritual purity and temporal wealth. Young ladies begun purposefully paling their skin in order to achieve the consumptive appearance and they also dropped belladonna into their eyes for it dilated their pupils, giving the eyes luminous glow.

The slow progress of the disease meant that the sufferer could have time to arrange his affairs. In those times, one could only hope to die from consumption. Amedeo Modigliani, whom I have written about in my last post, also died from consumption in 1920., though in his times it was not considered so romantic anymore as it took many and many lives in Paris. Chopin had died from consumption, and George Sand doted her lover, calling him her ‘poor melancholy angel’. She also wrote in a letter to her friend ‘Chopin coughs with infinite grace’.

Quite strange, and unbelievable, that once it was popular to die from such a disease. Lord Byron’s wish was not fulfilled for he died from fever.

Modigliani’s Muse

15 May

‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.’

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Jeanne Hebuterne, described as gentle, shy, quiet and delicate, was introduced to to the artistic community in Montparnasse by her brother Andre. There she met charismatic Amedeo Modigliani in spring of 1917. The two had an affair and they soon fell deeply in love. Despite the strong objection from her parents, she soon moved in with him and they got married.

As a beautiful young lady fit for Modigliani’s ideal of beauty, Jeanne instantly became the principal subject for Modigliani’s art. The portrait you see above is the portrait of Jeanne, painted in 1918, just two years prior to Amedeo’s death. Well known for his nudes and paintings of elongated faces, Modigliani was stubborn in not letting his art be labeled as Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism or Futurism, though he worked in a fertile period of ‘isms’. He insisted upon being an individual artist for himself, and his art indeed had its own direction. his nudes, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, were sensual, with elongated features but also quite objective. They were simultaneously abstracted and erotically detailed at the same time.

His portraits are simple, at first glance, but they have an appealing depth to it. I’ll take a portrait of Jeanne for example; that elongated face, full lips, dark eyes full of liveliness that gaze, not at he viewer, but into the distance, softness of her hair that falls on the shoulders, rosy cheeks. Her eyes seem so dark, thoughtful and dreamy but her gaze is full of unbearable sadness, sadness that is realistic, perhaps the sadness caused by the cruel realty which she cannot escape from. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. Their gaze is not direct, they’re not asking the audience to rescue them from their sad worlds, quite the opposite, they seem to be an inherent part of that world, trapped in it for eternity.

1917. Jeanne Hébuterne in Red Shawl by ModiglianiJeanne Hebuterne in Red Shawl

1918. Portrait of a Young Woman by ModiglianiPortrait of a Young Woman

1918. Seated Nude by ModiglianiSeated Nude

1917. Dedie Hayden by ModiglianiDedie Hayden

1917. Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman) by Amedeo ModiglianiNude Sitting on a Divan

Modigliani died in 1920, aged thirty five, from consumption he masked with alcohol for many years. His epitaph read ‘Struck down by Death at the moment of glory’. Amedeo was a charismatic man who attracted the attention of females. Actually, many of his painting are now lost due to giving them to his girlfriends of the time. With only one solo exhibition held in 1917, which caused a lot of controversy among Parisians, Modigliani, who never longed his work to be regarded as avant-garde, became the epitome of the tragic artist and a posthumous legend of him was created.

Modigliani was an artist who created and painted not in an attempt to shock the audience or outrage, but to say ‘This is what I see.’