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.
Soutine repeatedly placed children at the centre of his compositions; he seemed to be more at ease with young people than with adults. Although a woman claimed to have been married to Soutine and a daughter is said to have been born from this brief ‘love’, Soutine remained a bachelor to his end. Yet this lonely man, whose misanthropy pervades his portrayals of adults, seems to have had a tender feeling for children. This empathy is illustrated in pictures like Le petit garçon, painted circa 1934.
Soutine's portraits were a unique enterprise, and not portraits in the traditional sense. Unlike his contemporaries, who were commonly engaged with depicting known sitters, the glamorous icons and celebrities of the period, Soutine's preferred subjects were the everyday people of the street - hotel employees, baker's boys, butchers. It was rare for Soutine to paint a personal acquaintance - only a handful of such paintings are known - and instead he favoured strangers, subjects unaccustomed to being observed. In a sense, this showed the artist, who had himself known the bitter taste of extreme poverty for far too long, celebrating the underdog in his pictures, granting them a relative immortality, crystallising them in oils and allowing them to claim a posterity that otherwise would almost certainly have eluded them.
Part of this reluctance to paint his friends - or indeed himself (only three known self-portraits remain) - was due to the intensity of the relationship that the painter felt in the presence of his sitter. Soutine's paintings are a record not only of appearance but also of sensation. In his swirling oils, the artist has managed to capture emotions - his pictures reveal the subjective feelings that lead to a true, personal, yet distorted view of the world. With his friends, the sensations were too great, the image too distorted, whereas with these strangers he was afforded some degree of objectivity, an emotional distance. This distance gave Soutine the upper hand; standing behind the easel, scrutinising his sitter, he was in control of the situation, and this awareness in both painter and subject creates a different relationship that itself characterises the greatest of his portraits.