Soutine

Soutine

Soutine

Soutine

Excerpt

Soutine, Pascin, Utrillo and Modigliani -- they have been grouped together as though violence of temper and proneness to trouble constituted a school of art. In France they are called les peintres maudits -- painters under a curse. The lives of some Post- Impressionists, notably Gauguin and van Gogh, have put in the general mind and in the repertory of journalism about art, a concept of melodramatic greatness. Here was another such generation.

Modigliani, even in the year of his death, drugged and debilitated, kept his extraordinary facility, and never departed from his same felicitous type of picture until the end. Pascin indulged his sensuality and wild, cynical humor until it turned to despair, then resolutely cut his life short; he did not linger over it to say what it meant. Utrillo's alcoholism and illness were a living death for many years; but he has risen from it, and goes on painting in blissful simplicity.

Soutine was the least calamitous and least dissipated of the four, but perhaps the saddest. For as his art developed, it offered no distraction from his anxieties, animosities and self-reproach -- no escape. Not that he intended any effect of autobiography by means of his art. But from an early age he used his hardship, pessimism and truculence to set a tragic tone for his painting, irrespective of its subject matter. Limiting the themes of his work to conventional categories -- still life, landscape, portraiture and picturesque figure-painting -- he would always charge his pictures with extreme implications of what he had in mind: violence of nature, universality of hunger, and a peculiar mingling of enthusiasms and antipathies.

Which came first? Did his art sadden him so that it cast an irremediable shadow on his way of life? Or was his experience of life so grievous that his art could express nothing but grief and bitterness? It seemed a vicious circle. In any case, instead of relieving his mind, the intense seriousness of his artistic effort only dug deeper the melancholy channels of his thought.

But in his work as a mature artist there is an entire range of his reactions to tragic themes which is not tragic at all. It is instead exuberant and joyous. For Soutine was highly sensitive to the dramatic contrasts and clashes in humanity and nature . . .

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