When Chaim Soutine came to Paris in July of 1913, he first stayed at La Ruche (“The Beehive”), a complex of ramshackle artist studios in Montparnasse, sharing a space with fellow Lithuanian artists Michel Kikoïne and Pinchas Krémègne. La Ruche was a buzzing bohemian centre of creativity and home to the artists Marc Chagall, Moise Kisling, Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz. The latter introduced the 20-year-old Soutine to Amadeo Modigliani, who occasionally used a studio at La Cité Falguière, an equally decrepit artist colony nearby. Soutine relocated to a studio in La Cité Falguière in 1916, lodging in appalling conditions without heat and running water. For three years he occupied studio no. 11, which is one of the few in the complex that still stands today.
Soutine’s Studio No.11, in La Cité Falguière, Montparnasse, Paris
“One day I arrived around 11pm or midnight at the Cité Falguière. Modigliani had thrown away all the furniture because it had been infested with bedbugs. I entered…Modigliani and Soutine were lying on the floor. Of course, there was no light or gas. They held each a candle in their hands; Modigliani was reading Dante and Soutine, Le Petit Parisien.”
The Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani was about ten years older than Soutine and came from a family of aristocratic merchants in Livorno. Despite their vastly different backgrounds – Modigliani was elegant and sophisticated, Soutine rough and unrefined – the two artists, who were both Jewish, became close friends. Modigliani painted several portraits of Soutine.
Chaim Soutine, 1917
Oil on canvas,
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Soutine called his Italian companion by his nickname ‘Modi’, which a was not only a short form of his last name, but also a pun playing on the French word ‘maudit’, for ‘cursed’. Soutine’s wild and impulsive painting style was alien to Modigliani, who once drunkenly remarked: “Everything dances around me as in a landscape by Soutine.” Nonetheless, he had great respect for Soutine’s highly expressive art and introduced him to his dealer, Leopold Zborowski. Shortly before Modigliani died from tubercular meningitis in 1920, he told Zborowski, “Don’t worry, I’m leaving you Soutine!”
The present painting, showing artist’s studio at the La Cité Falguière, counts among Soutine’s earliest landscapes. It is a significant record of a place that was not only uniquely important to Soutine, but to a whole generation of artists who have drawn inspiration from the bohemian life in Montparnasse of that era.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming Volume III of the Chaim Soutine Catalogue Raisonne by Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow, currently in preparation.