In this very intimate but perfectly curated exhibition, twenty-one engaging portraits of service professionals have been brought together for the first time. And honestly, the exhibited portraits are breathtaking.
The Valet c.1927, Chaim Soutine, ©Courtauld Gallery, The Lewis Collection.
The sitters' downcast eyes, gelled-back hair, and simple embellishments offer an insight into an era of rapid social and industrial change. By the early 1920s, the 'cooks, waiters, and bell boys' of the traditional service heartlands of former aristocratic households were moving to Paris' luxury urban hotels. Attired in boldly coloured uniforms, these service professionals, with modest wages, but high ambitions, emerged as a new social class. Soutine became completely infatuated with them, and their uniforms.
Yet the faces in his portraits are anything but uniform. The distorted features tell individual stories. We see angular looking pastry chefs in oversized white coats and lop-sided paper-thin hats, butchers in blood-stained garments and fatigued valet boys in perfectly buttoned-up jackets. Despite their lowly-status, the figures dominate the frame. Full-length, they recall the regal grand-portraits of yesteryear - it's crystal clear that Soutine sourced compositional inspiration from Renaissance Masters such as Rembrandt.
The more you look at each portrait, the more beautiful it becomes. Thanks to the close hang, Chaim's bold style shines through a melange of broad attacking brushstrokes and lyrical, softer daubs of colour. Here, his palette is vibrant and the dominance of primary colours is jarring but surprisingly pleasing.
The Waiting Maid c.1933, Chaim Soutine, ©Courtauld Gallery, Ben Uri Gallery and Musuem.
Regarded amongst the high-flying gallery dealers as 'an artist's artist', the Russian-Jewish immigrant, who hobnobbed with Amedeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall, embodies the ‘the ultimate rags-to-riches story’. Born into poverty, Chaim Soutine rose to fame as one of the leaders of the influential 'School of Paris' in the early 1920s. Plagued by ill-health, Soutine died in 1943 on the operating table - Picasso, was amongst the mourners at his funeral.
With a legacy strongly felt throughout the latter part of the twentieth-century, we couldn't be more delighted to see these visceral portraits finally bask in all their former glory.
Buy a postcard or two on leaving - you’ll want to return to these intriguing figures again and again.
Culture Whisper is offering Culture Whisper Gold Members free pairs of tickets to Soutine's Portraits: entry valid between 16/12/17 - 19/01/18. Redeem tickets now to avoid disappointment (and before The Courtauld Gallery closes for a two-year refurbishment plan)
|Soutine’s Portraits review, Courtauld Gallery
|Courtauld Gallery, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN | MAP
19 Oct 17 – 21 Jan 18, 10am to 6pm, last admission at 5.30 pm
|£10.50 (concessions available)
|Book tickets here