Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)
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Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)

L'escalier rouge à Cagnes

Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)
L'escalier rouge à Cagnes
signed 'Soutine' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28¾ x 21¼ in. (73 x 54 cm.)
Painted circa 1923-1924
Anonymous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 31 March 1944, lot 27.
Georges Aubry, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Anonymous sale, Hôtel Drout, Paris, 25 June 1952, lot 138.
Katia Granoff, Paris, by 1954, and thence by descent to the present owner.
J. Lassaigne, Soutine, Paris, 1954, no. 4 (illustrated).
J. Diwo, 'Soutine, le dernier maudit', in Paris Match, 8 August 1959 (illustrated p. 64).
K. Granoff, Peintures, Poèmes de Katia Granoff, Paris, 1959 (illustrated pl. 21).
M. Castaing & J. Leymarie, Soutine, Paris, 1963, p. 20.
R. Negri, Soutine, Milan, 1966 (illustrated pl. 3).
R. Negri, L'Arte Moderna, vol. 10, no. 87, 1967, (illustrated p. 209).
H. Serouya, Soutine, Paris, 1967 (illustrated pl. III).
P. Courthion, Soutine: Peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, (illustrated p. 229b).
M.C. Lacoste, 'Le tourment de Soutine', in Le Monde, April 27, 1973.
Plaisir de France, May 1973 (illustrated p. 43).
L'Amateur d'Art, May - September 1973, p. 9 (illustrated p. 3 and on the cover).
Burlington Magazine, July 1973, no. 109, p. 486 (illustrated p. 484).
Le Spectacle du Monde, September 1973, p. 101.
J. Lassaigne, Soutine, 1973, no. 3 (illustrated).
A. Werner, Chaim Soutine, New York, 1977, p. 47 (illustrated fig. 51).
M. Tuchman, E. Dunow & K. Perls, Chaïm Soutine: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, Cologne, 1993, no. 128, p. 254 (illustrated p. 256).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Soutine, summer 1968, no. 18 (illustrated pl. 3).
Paris, Musée de L'Orangerie, Soutine, April - September 1973, no. 8 (illustrated).
Verona, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea - Palazzo Forti, Modigliani à Montparnasse, 1909-1920, July - October 1988 (illustrated p. 173).
Tokyo, Odakyu Museum, Chaïm Soutine: Centenary Exhibition, November - December 1992, no. 42 (illustrated p. 73); this exhibition later travelled to Nara, Sogo Museum, January - February 1993; Kasama, Nichido Museum, March - April 1993 and Hokkaïdo, Museum of Modern Art, April - May 1993.
Antibes, Musée Picasso, A l'épreuve de la lumière, June - September 1997, no. 44 (illustrated p. 35).
New York, The Jewish Museum, An Expressionist in Paris: The Paintings of Chaïm Soutine, April - August 1998, no. 30 (illustrated p. 169, pl. 9); this exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, September 1998 - January 1999 and Cincinnati, Cincinnati Art Museum, February - May 1999.
Vienna, Judisches Museum, Chaïm Soutine: Ein Französischer Expressionist, March - June 2000 (illustrated p. 129).
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, L'Ecole de Paris: 1904-1929, la part de l'autre, November 2000 - March 2001 (illustrated p. 313).
Basel, Foundation Beyeler, Expressiv!, March - August 2003, (illustrated p. 127).
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Sale room notice
Please note that the present lot has been requested for the exhibition Chaïm Soutine; le Fou de Smilovitch to be held at the Pinacothèque de Paris from 10 October 2007 until 27 January 2008.

Lot Essay

A striking and vibrant landscape, filled with the sense of movement and raw emotional power that fuels the greatest of Soutine's pictures, L'escalier rouge à Cagnes was painted circa 1923-24. This was at the high-point of his celebrated so-called 'Cagnes Period,' a space of only a few years, in which he created a string of masterpieces that each lent to the landscape a pulsing energy that had hitherto been unseen in the history of art. For while the impasto and the sheer verve with which L'escalier rouge à Cagnes has been painted recall perhaps the landscapes of one of Soutine's predecessors, Vincent van Gogh, the meatiness of the texture and indeed of the content is far from the love of nature and revelation of the divine that had marked the Dutch visionary's works. Instead, Soutine has managed to bring to the landscape tradition a carnality that is similar to that which fuelled his paintings of food, of beef carcasses, even his portraits of pastry cooks from roughly the same period. Soutine has captured the substance of the landscape, has trapped it in oils, and yet it appears still to struggle against the constraints of the frame and to leap into the world of the viewer.

Landscape had seldom, though occasionally, featured in Soutine's oeuvre before 1918. It was at this point that his dealer, Léopold Zborowski-- who had initially been reluctant to take on Soutine and had done so only at the behest of their mutual friend Modigliani-- had the inspiration to send him into the countryside, away from Paris. This was almost certainly the first time that the impoverished Soutine had left the French capital since his arrival there half a decade earlier. Until this point, Soutine had created series of claustrophobic, dark and brooding paintings, often inspired by the Old Masters that he saw on the walls of the Louvre. These he had frequently copied, gaining an in-depth knowledge of the canon of Western art. In part, he had copied them because he himself was at first too poor to afford the props for still life paintings, let alone models; in part, he had copied them because the Louvre was more heated than his space in the legendary haunt of artists, La Ruche, which he had shared with so many of the celebrated heroes of modern art. For Soutine's early years in Paris, like his early years in Lithuania, then a part of the Russian Empire, had been marked by abject poverty, and the spirit of the shtetl haunted and pursued him. He felt constantly persecuted: this was a legacy of the proscriptive environment in which he had been raised and in which his art had been considered a violation by the Orthodox Jewish community of his youth, and also of the institutionalised anti-Semitism of the Russian Empire.

Once exposed to the countryside, much of this anxiety flooded away, and even in the darkest of the early Céret landscapes from the end of the 1910s and beginning of the 1920s, there is a sense of new-found freedom, an almost ecstatic reaction to the new visual impetus of the French countryside. This freedom was only augmented during the 'Cagnes Period', which saw a lightening of the palette and a new sense of space enter his paintings. In L'escalier rouge à Cagnes, this is evident both in the jostling bustle of the houses and in the electric, lava-like flow of the staircase down the centre of the painting. This appears like some strange millipede, or a scar, even a torn-out spine, bringing to vivid life the flesh-obsession that makes Soutine's landscapes so pulsingly vital and alive. One of the sources for the freedom of the Cagnes paintings may have been the tragic death of Soutine's friend Modigliani. In losing in his fellow artist both a companion and advocate, he was also freed of a distinctly bad influence. Modigliani's legendary drinking bouts, revels and adventures had often taken Soutine in their wake. However, a greater biographical influence on the freedom of movement and the opening of the palette in the paintings from this period such as L'escalier rouge à Cagnes was Soutine's discovery by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, whose legendary collection in the United States remains in the form of the Barnes Foundation. When Barnes saw one of Soutine's pastrycook paintings, he was intrigued and, seeking out the artist, bought in bulk-- claims vary, but certainly Barnes bought dozens of Soutine's paintings. This brought the artist recognition and a moderate amount of wealth-- and comfort. And for the ever-emotional Soutine, whose emotions always bled into the oils on his canvases, this escape from poverty came to flavour his pictures and is therefore responsible for some of the verve and gusto with which L'escalier rouge à Cagnes has been painted.

Soutine was a complex character, and even at the height of his career was plagued by uncertainties. The freedom, then, that is evident in L'escalier rouge à Cagnes is to be considered relative to the haunting claustrophobia and angst of some of his earlier paintings. For there remains a sense of expressionistic torment, and even violence, in the way that he has rendered this landscape. The wound-like staircase itself is aggressive, and the topsy-turvy houses could well come from the darkest of the tales of the Brothers Grimm. It is telling that the artist himself had a love-hate relationship with Cagnes, that his reaction to the scenery was often tormented in itself. In a revealing letter to Zborowski during approximately the period that L'escalier rouge à Cagnes was painted, Soutine wrote:

'I received the money order. Thank you. I'm sorry I didn't write to you sooner about my work. It's the first time I haven't been able to do anything. I'm in a bad state of mind and demoralized and that affects me.'

'I've only seven canvases. I'm sorry. I'd like to leave Cagnes; I can't stand the landscape. I even went for a few days to Cap Martin, for I thought of settling there. I didn't like it. So I'm back in Cagnes against my will' (Soutine, letter from Cagnes, 1923, quoted in M. Castaing & J. Leymarie, Soutine, London, 1965, p. 26).

Perhaps it is this that has led to the unusual composition of L'escalier rouge à Cagnes. For this picture is rare amongst Soutine's Cagnes paintings for its verticality, which introduces a claustrophobia that seldom so openly marked his landscapes from this period. Rather than a distant view of the almost fairytale town perching on top of a promontory, here he has brought the viewer into the midst of the settlement and has focussed on the staircase, on a steep climb. In taking this vantage point, he fills the painting with the land, the houses, meaning that despite the receding sense of climbing space implied by the stairs, this is nonetheless a wall-like view. The landscape presents the viewer with a strange barrier. In this light, it is telling to look at Soutine's words disclaiming any influence of Cubism:

'I never touched cubism myself, you know, although I was attracted by it at one time. When I was painting at Céret and at Cagnes I yielded to its influence in spite of myself, and the results were not entirely banal. But then... Céret itself is anything but banal. There is so much foreshortening in the landscape that, for that reason, a picture may seem to have been painted in some special style' (Soutine, quoted in M. Tuchman, E. Dunow and K. Perls, Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, Cologne, 1993, p. 19).

L'escalier rouge à Cagnes provides a rare example in which Soutine managed to find and exploit similar foreshortening in Cagnes, and to spectacular effect. Here, the foreshortening and the selection of this vertical view allow Soutine to fill the entire canvas with swirling movement, with the ground and the houses at their jaunty angles, as well as the blood-like flow of the steps themselves. Although his friend Modigliani had died several years before this picture was painted, what he reportedly said once, when heavily inebriated, rings nonetheless true for L'escalier rouge à Cagnes: 'Everything is dancing before my eyes as in a landscape by Soutine' (A. Werner, Chaim Soutine, London, 1991, p. 38).

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