Chaim Soutine

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Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani, 1917

By EMMA SHAPIRO

Chaim Soutine and Amedeo Modigliani met while living in Paris in the early 1900s. Both being Jewish, Russian immigrant artists, they did not have many friends but each other. Modigliani painted many portraits of Soutine, the 1917 one as one of the most famous. Modigliani took inspiration from Africa, Egypt, and Archaic Greece for his paintings. Portraits with abstracted features, long noses, almond and sometimes blank eyes, columnar necks, and neutral backgrounds, characterize the work of Modigliani. Modigliani often left the eyes of his portraits blank, in order to degrade his subjects of identity. His paintings of Soutine stray from this commonality though. 

In Chaim Soutine, Soutine stares at the viewer with his black eyes. Although dark and mysterious, by giving Soutine eyes, Modigliani also gives him an identity. Soutine was of few people Modigliani knew, and an even lesser amount of friends. Soutine's nose does not possess the usual elongation but a slight thickness. His head also remains at almost normal proportions. Modigliani also paints Soutine in a setting, unlike his usual neutral or abstract, geometric backgrounds. Soutine sits in front of a table and what appears to be a mirror. He crosses his hands loosely and stares blankly. Although a rarity with Modigliani, his naturalistic approach in paintings of Soutine is admirable. 

Modigliani has been given the name of the "quintessential example of the bohemian artist." While living in Paris he sold portraits to sitters at the bar for as low as five francs. Modigliani did not aim become famous but rather struggled to get by. Along with portraiture, Modigliani also fascinated himself with the human body. He painted countless nudes, almost always in the same format. He rarely strayed from his signature style of a nude woman lying diagonally, confined within narrow space, and legs eclipsed by the edge of the canvas. The subjects usually had a gaze which suggested sexual availability. His nude women were often confiscated from exhibits due to their overt sexuality and eroticism. Although Modigliani lived a short life, the individuality of his art works have allowed him to live on with them. 



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