Painted in 1942, Paysage avec personage couché, Champigny is filled with the sense of movement and energy that mark the greatest of Soutine's paintings. This work, dating from the year before the artist's untimely death, appears to combine torment with liberation, celebration with angst. In the lower right-hand corner, there is a pool of relative calm, a lawn speckled with the blooms of flowers, a woman lying down. There is a stillness and tranquillity to this portion of the canvas that is in stark contrast to the swirling distortions of the gnarly trees in the background, which appear to arch under the weight of their existence and the influence of some strange wind.
The figure, and one of the causes for some of the calm of Soutine's life at the time, would appear to be Marie-Berthe Aurenche, Soutine's partner during the early 1940s. Their relationship marked the beginning of the Second World War, which would ultimately also prove to be the turbulent final years of Soutine's life. Marie-Berthe, the former wife of the Surrealist Max Ernst, looked after Soutine increasingly, in part because of his illness and in part because of the increasing persecutions of the Jewish population of France under the Nazi Occupation. She was a form of salvation for the artist, and was also the first owner of Paysage avec personage couché, Champigny. It is only fitting that she should feature in this picture in such a bucolic light.
Soutine's relationship to painting was visceral and instinctive. It was an extension of his being, a necessary outlet. If he had hardly any money, he would nonetheless spend it on oil and canvas if possible, foregoing food. During the Occupation, Soutine benefited greatly from the charity of his friends, who would provide him with oils and were also sheltering him as much as possible. By the time this picture was painted, he was in Champigny-sur-Veude in relative seclusion, avoiding contact with the outside world a great deal of the time. Other places had been increasingly unviable or even hostile, resulting in this move to the countryside, where he lived in an area spacious enough to afford him a studio. This allowed Soutine to continue to paint, even against the backdrop of the War. But it also meant that his paintings were fuelled by his anxieties about the situation in France. Paysage avec personage couché, Champigny is therefore an intriguing insight into both the lows and the highs that defined Soutine's life during this difficult period towards the end.