Chaïm Soutine: a troubled view of tradition

Chaïm Soutine was a Jewish-Russian painter born in Lithuania under the Russian empire. Now considered one of the most remarkable artists of the early 20th century, he painted traditional subjects like landscapes, faces, and still lives, to which he added his characteristic intense vision.


After a stint at the School of Art in Vilnius, he moved to Paris in 1912, where he quickly started going to the École de Paris alongside Modigliani, Utrillo and Chagall. But thanks to the intensity of his compositions and subjectivity of his imagery, he was the only one truly to stand out, even to the point of brushing up against the outer boundaries of expressionism. These features are what make his work so unique, particularly in the case of his oil on canvas Fig Trees.


Chaïm Soutine (1894-1943)
Fig Trees, circa 1920-1921
Oil on canvas
72,1 x 94,6 cm
Estimate: €700,000 - €1,000,000

From 1919 to 1922, the artist lived in the south of France, sometimes in the Riviera, sometimes in Roussillon. His piece Fig Trees is very representative of this period of his life in which Soutine was highly prolific. Many great artists like Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, and Dufy found their inspiration in the village of Céret, and Soutine was no exception. In Fig Trees, he affirms the strength of his subject by placing it at the foot of the village, which is hidden by the trees in the foreground. One can glimpse the river Tech cutting through the landscape as well as the Saint Pierre de Céret church, but it is difficult to make out the various components of the painting separately. By intermingling the features of the landscape and playing with the lack of depth, with the mix of colours, and with the thickness of the medium, Soutine affirms his style.


While certain artists like Vlaminck, Fautrier, Emil Nolde, and Oskar Kokoschka did come close to Soutine's sensibility, none of them had his immoderate, impulsive touch. Unique, personal, individual, and introspective, Soutine distanced himself from the genres with which he is occasionally associated, which only goes to show his singularity.



Modern & Contemporary Art

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