Painting of the Day

19 Nov


Flayed Rabbit. by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). Oil on canvas, c.1921. Currently at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Notes from the book Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation:

Dead animals are, with few exceptions, the principal theme of Soutine’s many still lifes. In these works, he expresses his obsession with death and bloodshed. This picture is among the most startling examples. It is devoid of anecdotal detail, unlike two other versions in which the simple addition of forks is enough to tame and transform the tragic scene into an evocation of familiar ktichen routine.

Soutine’s still lifes generally combine direct observation with a model taken, consciously or not, from the history of painting. His dead rabbits, suspended by their feet, bring to mind Chardin; turkeys with spread wings have their precedent in the numerous hunting trophies of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century painting; Rembrandt is the acknowledged prototype for various versions of The Slaughtered Ox

By depriving this sacrificed animal of all aesthetic and cultural embellishments, Soutine universalizes the motif. But the picture is not a straightfoward study, like Gericault’s paintings of cadaverous body parts; this is demonstrated by the care with which Soutine composed the work, framing the beast on three sides by the cloth, the table edge, and faint lines in the background. Soutine takes care to feature the rabbit carcass by representing it in perspective, while the table top is viewed instead from above. Such a sober presentation of a bloody carcass, this wretched body stripped of its own skin, reveals the moderation and restraint of Soutine’s expressionism. Dr. Barnes places Soutine after Daumier [in the collection’s display], from whom “he took the method of so simplifying and distorting objects as to make them appear monstrous or grotesque, but without loss of essential reality.” 

My comments:

If it wasn’t for Albert Barnes, Chaim Soutine may never have been “discovered” as an artist. When Barnes traveled to Europe to search for paintings for his new collection, he came upon Soutine’s work and immediately bought a large sum of his paintings, thus attracting attention to the artist in America and Europe and securing his place in posterity. 

As Barnes points out in his book, The Art of Painting (which I highly recommend), Soutine has a very similar technique to that of van Gogh, with copious amounts of paint slapped onto the canvas.The thickness of the paint becomes in itself a rhetorical effect on the painting, making it so much more expressive of its subject matter than it would have been otherwise. Its thickness symbolizes the thickness of the meat of the rabbit, and the carcass’s blood envelopes the whole painting, with that muddy red of blood pervading everything. This makes the whiteness of the sheet beneath the rabbit a bit surprising; it is doubtful that it would stay that clean with such a bloody animal laying upon it. But the white cloth is important, because without it the rabbit would be invisible and indiscernible from the background, since Soutine relies almost exclusively on color to create the figure of the rabbit.

2 Responses to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara November 20, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I thought Soutine painted dead animals because he lived over a butcher shop , was poor and he didn’t have to pay for these models! also, as i recall, there is supposed to be an image of Christ in this painting, but i could never see it.

    • zwray1 November 20, 2012 at 1:50 am #

      Did you learn that about Soutine on the docent tour? I don’t remember you being with us, Jennifer :).
      And I was almost going to include that Christ image rumor in the post, but I thought it sounded too silly so I omitted it.

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