Thursday, March 7, 2013

Carcass of Beef by Chaim Soutine

       Artists paint a lot of different things: landscapes, scenes of everyday life, people, models, bowls of fruit, scenes from scripture and mythology, and so on. So when Chaim Soutine decided to paint a carcass of beef in his own studio, I was quick to take an interest in it.
       Soutine was Jewish by religion. He grew up in a ghetto where there was little food, so that unfortunate circumstance likely influenced his decision to paint a portrait of the carcass to the point that it was rotten by the time he was done.

Carcass of Beef in the... flesh. 1925, oil on canvas.
        As the title of the work suggests, it features a carcass of beef that Soutine had obtained through unspecified means. The carcass hung in his studio the entire time he was painting it, and it was rotted thoroughly by the time it the work was completed. The stench was so profound even as Soutine painted it, his neighboring tenants in the apartment notified the authorities of the carcass's presence. So what was the reason behind Soutine's apparent madness? As it turns out, the "carcass of beef" idea had been done by another artist: Rembrandt van Rijn, who is still considered one of the artistic greats of the 17th century. Apparently, Soutine's plan was to emulate Rembrandt's style.

Carcass of Beef by Rembrandt van Rijn. 1675, oil on canvas.

       Soutine was part of a group of artists known as "The Damned." These artists were living manifestations of the stereotypical starving artist: living in poverty and a perpetual state of malnourishment, and with a career consisting of just enough sales to get by. Fortunately for Soutine, Dr. Alvert Barnes, a collector of art, bought enough of Soutine's works in 1923 for Soutine to be free of financial difficulty for the remainder of his life.
       Unfortunately for Soutine, the Nazis eventually occupied France during World War II in 1940. Since he was a known and registered Jew, Soutine had no choice but to flee for his life. His plan was to escape France, but a stomach ulcer necessitated his return to Paris to seek treatment. The ulcer ultimately took his life after a failed treatment. Soutine's Jewish upbringing and life of poverty was a major influence throughout his career.

       For a full biography on Soutine's life and a gallery of his works, visit (Biography)

       For more information on events in France during World War II, visit

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