Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943)
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Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943)

Femme couchée

Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943)
Femme couchée
oil on panel
8 1/8 x 13 1/2 in. (20.5 x 34.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1940
Marcellin & Madeleine Castaing, Paris, by whom acquired from the artist.
Michel Castaing, Paris, [son of the above], and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 22 June 2004, lot 170.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. Castaing & J. Leymarie, Soutine, Paris/ Lausanne, 1963 (illustrated pl. XXXIV).
P. Courthion, Soutine, Peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, no. E, p. 287 (illustrated; dated '1941').
R. Barotte, ‘Soutine, le témoignage de Madeleine Castaing’, in Plaisir de France, no. 409, Paris, May 1973, p. 46 (illustrated).
M. Tuchman, E. Dunow & K. Perls, Chaïm Soutine, Catalogue raisonné, Werksverzeichnis, vol. II, Cologne, 1993, no. 181, p. 768 (illustrated p. 771).
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Soutine, April - September 1973, no. 89 (dated '1941').
Milan, Galleria Bergamini, Chaïm Soutine. I Dipinti della Collezione Castaing, March - April 1987, no. 13 (illustrated; titled ‘Testa di donna sdraiata’).
Chartes, Musée de Chartes, Soutine, June - October 1989, no. 72, p. 310 (illustrated p. 311; dated '1941').
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Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale
Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

‘No one has dealt more intimately or feelingly with the specific properties of oil paint - or more pictorially. Soutine used impasto for the sake of colour alone, never sculpturally or to enrich the surface. His paint matter is kneaded and mauled, thinned or thickened, in order to render it altogether chromatic, altogether retinal' (C. Greenberg, Arts and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston, 1971, n.p.)

Painted around 1940, Femme couchée is an intimate work capturing, up close, a woman lying contemplative on her bed. The brushwork retains some of the expressive energy of Soutine's earlier paintings, with vigorous passages and lively brushstrokes, especially in the background, the pigment is applied in broad, kinetic swathes, anticipating the gestural liberation of the Abstract Expressionists, who looked to Soutine as a hero ahead of his time. ‘It’s the lushness of the paint,’ de Kooning declared. ‘He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance. There’s a kind of transfiguration in his work’ (De Kooning, quoted in The Impact of Chaïm Soutine, exh. cat., Cologne, 2002, p. 53).
And yet, there is also a tranquillity in this picture that may provide some insight into the artist's own state of mind at the time. It was painted against the backdrop of a period of upheaval in Paris as the Germans occupied the city from June that year. Soutine, in poor health besides, and particularly conscious of the vulnerability of his position as both a Jew and a foreigner in France, would move from place to place, hence the smaller dimensions of the later works. But the artist had found loyal and helpful companions, among them Gerda Groth, and was lent strength in the face of adversity. ‘Soutine is a painter to whom content was everything,’ Andrew Forge has concluded. ‘His art... seems to mirror a solitary experience, to have suffered to a degree that is without parallel even in the art of our century’ (A. Forge, Soutine, London, 1965, p. 21).

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