Chaim Soutine artwork exhibited for first time in Israel in 50 years

January 19, 2020 by Eliana Rudee - JNS.org
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Now through March 21, Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod, a kibbutz in northern Israel, is exhibiting the works of Chaim Soutine, one of the leading artists of the 20th century, for the first time in Israel in 50 years.

“Les Maisons,” 1921 by Chaim Soutine. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Soutine (1893-1943), often considered the “Jewish Picasso,” paved a new path for an entire generation of artists, not only in Israel but also abroad in the United States and Europe. His work is on permanent display in the Pompidou Museum in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York, with his solo exhibitions drawing many visitors.

Soutine was one of the most outstanding figures of the School of Paris (L’École de Paris). He settled in the French capital before World War I, and his life was similar to those of many of the bohemian artists in Paris at the time. Amedeo Modigliani was a close friend, and his immediate circle included Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau, Chana Orloff and Jacques (Yaakov) Chapiro. His work was reviewed by the leading art critics of the time—Waldemar George, André Salmon and Elie Faure.

The Soutine exhibition in Ein Harod will feature 18 paintings gathered from museum and private collections from Israel and abroad. Accompanying the Soutine exhibit will be an exhibition of Israeli artists spanning three generations, all influenced by Soutine’s work, as well as an exhibition of paintings by Chaim Atar, one of the founders of the Mishkan Museum.

“The exhibit is both an extraordinary artistic experience and a source of insight into the origins and development of Israeli art since the 1930s,” said chief curator of the exhibition, Yaniv Shapira.

According to Shapira, while Soutine’s work has been showcased in at least one solo exhibition every year in various countries—with art scholars taking a growing interest in his work as the years go by—in Israel, only one solo exhibition of Soutine’s work was ever staged, and that was a half a century ago.

“It’s hard to explain why Soutine’s paintings haven’t been shown in Israel for so many years. Perhaps because he was perceived as a Jewish artist or as someone who dealt with difficult issues that for many years were not accepted here. The current exhibit clearly shows that what museum directors and curators didn’t find important enough, artists of all generations knew to identify,” Shapira told JNS.

‘Sense of distress and persecution’

Soutine, who suffered from severe anxiety in his private life, was open and free in his art. Every painting of his—whether a landscape, a portrait, or still life—is also a contemplation of life and death, which can explain his influence on the next generations of artists in Europe and the United States.

His work draws on the legacy of classical European painting, primarily French and Dutch. But at the same time, said Shapira, Soutine was an original artist with a style all his own, who paved a new path taken by none of his earlier contemporaries.

Though Soutine did not refer to Israel or Jewish life in his artwork, according to Shapira, “the influence of his childhood origins in a Jewish home and the Jewish shtetl [small Jewish village in eastern Europe] cannot be ignored. They shaped his personality, his values ​​and his behaviour, as well as the sense of distress and persecution he felt throughout his entire life.”

“Although he did not paint a single ‘Jewish’ painting, such as daily life in the shtetl, polemics or long-bearded rabbis, there were those who recognized in him the Jewish artist who expressed more than anyone else the Jewish tragedy of his times,” explained Shapira. “This refers primarily to his paintings of dead animals, in his expression of a ‘scream’ and in his ability to combine deathly anxiety and passion for life in a single painting.”

It should also be noted, he added, “that Soutine never once denied his Judaism and stuck to his original name throughout his life: Chaim.”

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