This work will be included in the forthcoming new edition of the Chaïm Soutine catalogue raisonne currently being prepared by Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow.
With its swirling paint and vivid colours, Le faisan au chou is one of a number of still life pictures that Chaïm Soutine painted during 1926 and 1927 that managed to capture some sense of the raw pulp of life, even through a subject that was very much nature morte. Long an avid admirer of the Old Masters with an intimate knowledge of many of the paintings in the Louvre, Soutine's still life images of food were in part homages to predecessors such as Chardin and, in his celebrated beef carcasses, Rembrandt. The still life, a form of memento mori, is transformed through Soutine's unique vision, resulting in a picture that is filled with a strange, raw vitality. It is the bloody stuff of life that the artist has captured here. Recalling his days in the shtetl of Smilovitchi during his impressionable childhood, Soutine remembered witnessing the slaughter of a bird: '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' (C. Soutine, quoted in M. Tuchman, E. Dunow and K. Perls, Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943): Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, Cologne, 1993, p. 16). It was this cry that Soutine tried to capture in his beef carcasses, and likewise in Le faisan au chou.
Soutine's paintings were the products of his own raptures and torments. The swirling sense of vitality that fills Le faisan au chou appears to be a form of celebration, yet to be the product of the vigorous, angst-fuelled actions of the painter himself as he fervently applies oil to canvas. However, for Soutine, the subject of food was always a complex one. Having starved as a struggling artist on his arrival in Paris, Soutine had developed almost a phobic relationship to food. Added to this, the meats that he chose were usually conspicuously non-kosher, be they game, as is the case here, or the blood-soaked beef that has clearly not been slaughtered according to the Jewish dietary laws. Thus there was ever the sense of the forbidden, the controversial and the anguished. In Le faisan au chou, the mass of colourful paint has a tactile quality that lends a palpable sensuality, resulting in a picture that is at once steeped in an expressionistic atmosphere of existential turmoil and of sensory overload.
It is a tribute to the quality of Le faisan au chou that it was formerly owned by the English painter Edward Le Bas (1904-1966), a prominent collector of 20th century English and French pictures including Pierre Bonnard's Le Bol de lait, which was bequeathed to the Tate Gallery in 1967.