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PROPERTY OF THE FRED HUTCHINSON CANCER RESEARCH CENTER, SOLD TO BENEFIT ITS PIONEERING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
The paintings Soutine completed during the first half of the 1920s are his first fully evolved and characteristic works, unprecedented and wholly his own in their irrepressible intensity of expression. Soutine painted like no other artist of his time, heralded decades later by the post-war generation of American Abstract Expressionists who would claim him as a precursor to their newly instinctual approach to painting.
Soutine first visited Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azur in 1918, in the company of his friend Amedeo Modigliani and their dealer Léopold Zborowski. He spent the years 1919-1922 in Céret, a town in the Pyrénées-Orientales region of southwestern France, working in isolation, but painting more than two hundred canvases, mostly mountainous landscapes—“a body of work unique in modern times,” Maurice Tuchman has declared, “ecstatic for their convulsiveness and evocation of exhilarant sensation” (M. Tuchman, E. Dunow and K. Perls, op. cit., vol. I, p. 19).
A most fortunate event would alter Soutine’s life following his return to Paris in 1922. The American collector Albert C. Barnes came upon one of his recent paintings in a group exhibition Zborowski had organized. At the urging of the astute dealer Paul Guillaume, who published the first article on Soutine in January 1923, Barnes met with the artist, and ended up buying as many as a hundred paintings straight out of his studio, for which he paid around 60,000 francs. “No contemporary painter has achieved,” Barnes claimed, “an individual plastic form of more originality and power than Soutine” (The Art in Painting, Merion, Pennsylvania, 1925, p. 375).
With proceeds from the Barnes sales paying his way, Soutine traveled south again in 1923 to sojourn in Cagnes, while making occasional trips to Paris. At first he complained to Zborowski about being “in a bad state of mind...a state of indecision.” During 1924 he nevertheless again hit his stride, for as Monroe Wheeler understood, “This cry of failure preceded on one of the finest phases of his art” (Soutine, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1950, p. 61). He continued to paint landscapes, while turning with increasing frequency to still lifes and portraits as well.
As David Sylvester noted, Soutine “could practically do all his shopping for his still lifes at the butcher’s or the fishmonger’s...He painted what was literally nature morte” (“Soutine,” About Modern Art, New York, 1997, p. 112). “[Soutine] identified himself wholeheartedly with the tradition of painting in front of appearances,” Andrew Forge wrote. “For him contact with the subject was an emotional necessity...Everything he paints becomes a part of himself...He was never able to see a thing as an inanimate object removed from the world of living things or human feelings. Rather he endows everything with life, in the most literal sense...He is like a man painting out of darkness, filling his dark world with things and people...His handling must be naïve, bringing nothing from the past of skill or knowledge or practice...His best pictures are unquestionable, like the things they are of...You have the feeling that Soutine is inventing painting while you look” (Soutine, London, 1965, pp. 13, 28 and 32-33).
The present work was formerly in the collection of Kirk Douglas, American actor, producer, director and philanthropist, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 103. This painting is now being offered by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to fund their vital research.