Chaim Soutine was an outsider in Montparnasse, a Russian Jewish expat who came, like many others, both to flee repression and to immerse himself in the flourishing artistic culture of Paris at the turn of the century. (He was a close friend of Modigliani's)
An exhibition at The Jewish Museum is flat out gorgeous. There are no portraits, or rather the portraits are of beef carcasses, broken turkey necks, and all manner of fish and fowl. The thick impasto is rich enough to provoke thoughts of eating, yet the degree of intimacy is also off putting.
It helps not to be a vegetarian to see the show. Apparently because of kosher dietary restrictions about how animals must be slaughtered (quickly, then drained of blood), Soutine had to refresh his subjects with new blood from time to time to achieve the intense saturated color palette he desired.
Soutine was more reverent towards his elders. Cezanne, Courbet, Chardin and Weenix all figure in these luscious tableaux. He can be a Matisse on steroids.
But the paintings and their subject matter are so original as to be utterly contemporary. Who would have thought that rabbits, pheasants, steer and geese could elicit so much emotion?
Soutine grew gentler at the end. Instead of innards, he portrayed the whole animal. And thus the late work pales by comparison.
I am so grateful to have seen these masterworks which are largely new to me. To see the ascetic Giacometti work and the libertine Soutine creations in the same day left the more famous artist in the dust.