This painting will be included in the forthcoming third volume of the Chaïm Soutine catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow.
A TRIBUTE BY MAURICE TUCHMAN AND ESTI DUNOW
"Soon after the publication of volumes I and II of our Chaim Soutine catalogue raisonné in 1993, this extraordinary landscape was brought to our attention. The owner, a distinguished collector of great intelligence and sensitivity, provided the opportunity to physically examine the painting. We plan to include it in the next volume of the catalogue raisonné. Indeed, of the close to 150 paintings that have been accepted for this forthcoming volume, this masterpiece of Soutine's Céret period is one of the most striking.
The motif--a view of the town of Céret, seen from a surrounding hilltop--is the same as that of a painting in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art (fig. 1). A visit to the town of Céret shows a marker on the site. Indeed, the town displays various markers to identify the sites of Soutine's motifs--a clear tribute to the painter who worked directly from life. Despite the seeming abstraction and illegibility of form, Soutine's images are readily recognized and true to his concentrated observation.
Céret was home to many artists in the early part of the twentieth century. Picasso and Braque developed the early forms of Cubism here. While Soutine claimed not to have been influenced by Cubism, he admitted to coming close to its "temptations" here at Ceret, in landscape images where the space has been collapsed and reconstructed. The compression of space, the buckling of planes into a flattened surface, the confusion of form, pigment, and stroke, the visceral quality of the paint and energy of the "touch" of the artist all combine to make this image one of Soutine's most radical. The painting is perfectly and consistently realized throughout, as if it was just made, magically, in one ecstatic surge.
Included in the 1950 Museum of Modern Art's Soutine exhibition, this painting was one of many that was seen by the then-forming generation of Abstract Expressionists. The MoMA show was critical to defining artists such as de Kooning, Pollock, Tworkov, and Guston."
--Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow are the co-authors of the Chaim Soutine catalogue raisonné. Volumes I and II, prepared with Klaus Perls, were published in 1993. Since that time, 150 paintings have been located and authenticated for a third volume, currently in preparation.
Many of the truly salient moments, the most astonishing episodes, that mark the development of modern art are directly connected with the sun, light and colors of the South of France, beside or near the Mediterranean, the fertile seed bed of Western culture since antiquity. As destiny would have it, a young artist from the Jewish Pale of Settlement in distant Lithuania would find his time in the southern sun and paint many of his most extraordinary canvases.
In April 1918, eager to escape the persistent German bombardment of Paris, Soutine and his friends Modigliani and Foujita, together with their dealer Léopold Zborowski, traveled to Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Côte d'Azur. They had, moreover, another purpose: because the paintings market in Paris was virtually dead during this late stage in the war, Zborowski had hoped he could sell his artists' paintings to the wealthy Parisians who had also fled the capital and gathered in Nice to sit out the remainder of the war in safety and in their accustomed style.
There were no sales, however, but despite this disappointment, Soutine at least had his opportunity for a vacation, the only one he had been able to take since his arrival in Paris five years earlier. And for the first time in his life he gazed upon and walked in the sea. By the time Soutine and Foujita returned to Paris in July, leaving the others to stay on in Nice, he had completed about twenty landscape paintings (Tuchman, Dunow and Perls, no. 14; fig. 2). Soutine had enjoyed the Midi, its sunlight, colors and warmth. Back in Paris, the painter Pierre Brune, who had been a fellow denizen with Soutine in the Cité Falguière studios before 1916, related to his Russian colleague how he had recently gone to the small town of Céret in the foothills of the Pyrénées-Orientales region of France, near the border with Spain, to convalesce after having been gassed in combat at the front. Brune suggested that Soutine spend time there as well, an idea Zborowski enthusiastically endorsed, promising to cover Soutine's expenses, including the costs of his painting supplies, in return for the canvases he would send back to Paris.
Céret had become famous in artists' circles as, the writer André Salmon had called the town, "the Mecca of Cubism." Picasso and Braque had together painted there during the summer of 1911. For Picasso, Céret--in the heart of French Catalonia--was nearly as appealing as being back in his native land, and he twice returned, in 1912 and 1913. Gris, too, had spent several months in Céret during 1913. When Soutine arrived in early 1919, the town had already attracted a changing colony of artists from Paris, including Pinkus Krémègne, another Russian Jew.
Soutine experienced, however, a difficult time in Céret. He lived and worked almost entirely in isolation. He found it difficult to mix with the local populace, who spoke Catalan, and it seems he had little contact with other painters who happened to be there at the time. Two elderly women on the outskirts of town offered Soutine lodging in their home and looked after him. Funds and other necessities from Zborowski, who himself was generally only slightly better off than the typically struggling and straitened artists he represented, arrived infrequently or, during particularly trying stretches, not at all. Although his situation was deteriorating, Soutine somehow managed to stick it out, and remained there for nearly three years, occasionally making trips to Paris and Cagnes. Having received in Cagnes the news of Modigliani's death in Paris on 24 January 1920, he arrived back in the capital in time to join the funeral procession to the Père Lachaise cemetery. Modigliani, his closest friend, while on his deathbed is reputed to have told Zborowski, "In Soutine I'm leaving you a great artist" (quoted in P. Sichel, Modigliani: A Biography, London, 1967, p. 501).
Soutine in Céret applied himself to painting like a man possessed. The years 1919-1922 would prove to be the most prolific of his life; he painted more than two hundred canvases, mostly landscapes, but some figure paintings as well: "a body of work unique in modern times," Maurice Tuchman has declared, "paintings that may accurately be labeled ecstatic for their convulsiveness and evocation of exhilarant sensation" ("Chaim Soutine: Life and Work" in Chaim Soutine, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1993, vol. I, p. 19). Soutine painted the present view of Céret during 1921-1922, at the very climax of his sojourn in the Pyrénées, while thoughts of Modigliani continued to weigh heavily on his mind. "His accelerated production has been attributed," as Monroe Wheeler has pointed out, "to his alarm at the death of Modigliani It is possible that the emotions precipitated by this event expressed themselves in certain tumultuous canvases which Soutine did at this time" (exh. cat., op. cit., p. 50).
The present Vue sur le village was painted from a slope overlooking Céret, probably facing south toward the ridges of the Pyrénées, which are visible in the distance. As Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow note above, today a marker identifies Soutine's vantage point, among others that record locations in the vicinity where the artist is known to have worked. Soutine painted another version of this view on a square canvas, in which he cropped in the view at the sides (Tuchman, Dunow and Perls, no. 86; fig. 1). In both works he appears to have become obsessed with the wave-like rhythm in the repeated 'M'-shaped stacking of the village roofs that rise from either side of an ascending artery of black paint, which represents a central thoroughfare in the town. The present painting contains subsidiary elements rare in the more expansive of the Céret landscapes: by way of a repoussoir, there is in the foreground the figure of a man in white reaching toward the dark shape of a donkey or mule.
"The landscape of the Pyrénées seem, indeed, to be shaken by some cosmic force," Monroe Wheeler has written (ibid.). The distinctive landscape tectonics in Soutine's fully-fledged Céret manner are here in evidence. The dense piling up of writhing, convoluted skeins of paint describe immense masses of landscape and masonry. The earth seems to erupt in shock waves that blast through the entire landscape. Like a living creature, the landscape appears to have split open, even exploded, spewing forth its viscera. Soutine applies a nervous but determined hand to exert control over this tumult, by simultaneously telescoping and compressing these motifs, as if the world, like a spent star, were collapsing into itself.
The net result is a flattened, claustrophobic pictorial space. Having absorbed the precedent of fractured cubist space, Soutine has created a picture, as David Sylvester has commented on a painting in the Tate, "fitted together as deftly as any cubist portrait" ("Soutine" in About Modern Art, New York, 1997, p. 121; Tuchman, Dunow and Perls, no. 71; fig. 3). "The Céret landscapes are some of the most Dionysian paintings in the history of art... We do not read this landscape in terms of objects and relations between objects. Our awareness cuts through objects. It responds to rhythms, an interplay of forces The very manipulation of pigment has pried the subject from nature into the personal sensation of terror, violence--and paint... The paint does not refer to an experience; the experience is precipitated in the paint" (ibid., pp. 117, 120, 121 and 122).
When Zborowski, his wife Hanka and their assistant Paulette Jourdain visited Soutine at some point toward the end of the artist's second year in Céret, Soutine made it clear that he refused to stay there any longer, and won temporary respite during a journey with them to Montpellier, Nîmes and Béziers, thereafter spending 1922 moving back and forth between Cagnes and Céret. Soutine returned to Paris near the end of 1922; he never again returned to Céret.
Soon afterwards, the long awaited, career-altering miracle that Soutine had hoped for finally came to pass. The American millionaire collector Albert C. Barnes had seen one of Soutine's paintings in Paul Guillaume's gallery. Barnes then bought between sixty and a hundred paintings right out of Soutine's studio. His purchases included a number of Céret landscapes (Tuchman, Dunow and Perls, no. 62; fig. 4), which fortunately preserved these marvelous paintings for perpetuity: as Soutine moved into his next phase, looking to the old masters to imbue his own work with a stronger sense of solidity and orderliness, he derided the pictures he had done in Céret, and whenever he had the opportunity to buy one back he would quickly destroy it.
As Esti Dunow and Maurice Tuchman mention above, Monroe Wheeler included this Vue sur le village in the Soutine exhibition he curated at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1950 (op. cit.), which came as a revelation to many who were experienced in person the work of this singular artist for the first time. The qualities of the Céret landscapes came as a special surprise; Wheeler thought they had previously suffered from lack of interest because they were known only in black-and-white illustrations, which did them little justice. American painters in the nascent movement of Abstract Expressionism--De Kooning, Pollock, Tworkov and Guston among others--discovered in Soutine a remarkable and prescient antecedent. Tuchman and Dunow have curated two exhibitions that chart the connections between Soutine and the first post-war generation of avant-garde American painters: The Impact of Chaim Soutine, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 2002; and Soutine and Modern Art, Cheim & Reid, New York, 2006.
(fig. 1) Chaim Soutine, Vue de Céret, 1921-1922. The Baltimore Museum of Art.
(fig. 2) Chaim Soutine, Paysage à Cagnes, circa 1918. Private collection.
(fig. 3) Chaim Soutine, Paysage de Céret (L'orage), 1920-1921. Formerly the Barnes Foundation, Merion Station, Pennsylvania; The Tate Gallery, London.
(fig. 4) Chaim Soutine, Les maisons sur la colline, Céret, 1920-1921. Formerly The Barnes Foundation, Merion Station, Pennsylvania; Private collection.