Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)
Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)

Le poulet sur fond bleu

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)
Le poulet sur fond bleu
signed ‘Soutine’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 ½ x 16 1/8 in. (80 x 41.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1925
Henri Bing, Paris (by 1926).
Jacques Dubourg, Paris (by 1959).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
W. George, "Soutine" in Amour de l'Art, 1926, no. 11, p. 369 (illustrated; titled Nature morte).
R. Berger, "L'été a Paris" in XXe Siècle, vol. 21, December 1959 (illustrated).
P. Volboudt, "Ce mal que répand la terreur" in XXe Siècle, vol. 26, May 1964, p. 41 (illustrated).
P. Courthion, Soutine, Peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, p. 246, fig. G (illustrated; titled Coquelet vu de profil).
E.G. Güse, ed., C. Soutine, exh. cat., Kunstalle Tübingen, 1982, pp. 91-93.
M. Tuchman, E. Dunow and K. Perls, Chaim Soutine, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 2001, vol. I, p. 438, no. 73 (illustrated in color, p. 439).
(possibly) Paris, Galerie de France, Soutine, rétrospective, January-February 1945, no 18.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cent tableaux de Soutine, 1959, no. 63.
New York, The Jewish Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Cincinnati Art Museum, An Expressionist in Paris: The Paintings of Chaim Soutine, April 1998-May 1999, p. 79, fig. 44 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it. I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat. This cry, I always feel it there” (quoted in Chaim Soutine, exh. cat., Galerie Thomas, Munich, 2009, p. 59).
During the mid-1920s, in an intensive and impassioned effort to “liberate” this cry, Soutine painted a prolonged sequence of paintings–eloquent, ecstatic, and utterly unforgettable–that depict recently slaughtered animals, heroically isolated on the canvas. “Even more important than the hare and rabbits, and, it could be argued, more successful than the beefs, is a series of pictures of hanging fowl,” Andrew Forge has written. “There are more than twenty of them, turkeys, ducks, chickens, some plucked, some in full feather. They represent the highest point of his achievement in still-life” (Soutine, London, 1965, p. 41).
These extraordinary images of butchered birds may be divided into two compositional groups. In one, the creatures are hung ignominiously upside-down by the legs, the wings flailing convulsively as in the final throes of death. In others, including the present Poulet sur fond bleu, the bird is suspended from the neck instead, and self-contained pathos replaces sputtering energy. Here, the bird’s beak gapes open in a silent shriek toward the heavens, and the front legs hang limply in a posture of supplication. The elongated vertical format of the painting emphasizes the physicality–the “dead weight”–of the dangling bird, its neck stretched long and its claws scraping the bottom edge of the canvas. “I want a very lean chicken with a long neck and flaccid skin,” Soutine is rumored to have told a bewildered shop-keeper who had offered up a pleasingly plump specimen out of sympathy for the artist’s apparent poverty. “I’m going to hang it up by the beak with a nail. In a few days it should be perfect” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2009, pp. 9-11).
In the present painting, Soutine has illuminated his prize fowl against an abstract ground of slashing blue strokes, creating a powerful frame for the naked fact of the animal and its death. Viscous, luxuriant streaks and swirls of gold, red, and blue pigment describe the bird itself, evoking the carnal realities of fat, muscle, and skin. The unbridled immediacy of the paint fabric generates a sense of powerful, pulsing vitality that contradicts the very subject matter of the painting–a literal nature morte. This image of death is charged with life, just as the inanimate canvas surface is transformed into the substance of flesh, commanding the viewer’s attention and provoking an immediate emotional response that mirrors Soutine’s own fervent identification with his motifs. “Soutine’s paint as it lies there upon the canvas appears to act like a miraculous teeming substance,” David Sylvester has written, “that actually generates life under our eyes” (Chaim Soutine, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1963, p. 15).
Le poulet sur fond bleu has belonged for the last half-century to the distinguished Parisian gallerist Jacques Dubourg and subsequently to his descendants. Dubourg was first an avid collector and art dealer in Impressionist and classic modern art and later a passionate promoter of post-war artists such as Nicolas de Staël, Sam Francis, and Joan Mitchell, many of whom saw an important precedent for their own work in Soutine’s unfettered gestural expressiveness.

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