Monday, April 21, 2008
Soutine's Suit (and other stories)
In the nineteen twenties, my father Sam Salz became friends with the painter Chaim Soutine. Soutine was born in Smilovitchi near Minsk, Lithuania(now Belarus) and fled his Jewish Orthodox background after having violated the second Commandment by painting a portrait of a rabbi. He went to Paris and became friendly with the artists at "La Ruche" which was in the Montparnasse district. Among these artists were the painter Amedeo Modigliani and the dealer Zborovsky. My father knew them all and also became Soutine's dealer. He used to tell me that he and Soutine would meet the Russian filmaker Sergei Eisenstein("The Battleship Potemkin", "Ivan the Terrible"). One of the stories was that Soutine had wanted to make a painting of a carcass of beef and rented a hotel room to do it in. He hung the carcass in the room and painted it for days until he finished the artwork. After that he left with the painting and the side of beef stayed there, surrounded by flies and a bad smell. Those pictures are now some of his great works. You could almost say that the image of this hung piece of meat was like a secular painting of a crucifixion predicting the advent of the Holocaust. Usually after a sale, Soutine would buy a suit with the proceeds from one of his paintings. He would then paint, sleep and live in that suit until he sold another painting and bought a new one. Albert Barnes, the famous Philadelphia collector bought his work and was trying to convince him to come to America. "No one knows me there" Soutine replied and he died in the village of Touraine, as the Nazi army invaded France.