ART / Heart, soul, blood and guts: His family beat him for his art, he destroyed it. But a major exhibition dedicated to Chaim Soutine is long overdue, argues Dalya Alberge

Poor Soutine. If only he'd had more confidence in himself. Chaim Soutine, the Russian-born painter, was so tormented by self-doubt that he destroyed works in huge numbers.

If only he could have foreseen the extent to which his passionate brush- strokes, disturbingly brutal compositions and whirlpools of colour would one day inspire others. Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon were all affected by his visionary landscapes, his tortured, distorted portraits and his semi-abstract images of flayed carcasses. Yet, despite various exhibitions and studies since his death in 1943, Soutine remains relatively unknown, overshadowed by his friends Modigliani, Chagall and Leger.

But in the centenary of his birth, a lavish catalogue raisonne has just been published (Benedikt Taschen Verlag, pounds 39.99) after some 30 years of research by co-writers Maurice Tuchman, chief curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Klaus Perls, a leading New York dealer, and art historian Esti Dunow.

Modigliani would have been proud of the excesses recorded in the study. Soutine upset his neighbours by keeping rotting ox carcasses and buying blood to keep them looking fresh enough to paint - the stench was sufficient to warrant a visit by the police. Modigliani likened Soutine's work, with its uninhibited expression and often frenzied savagery, to his drug- induced hallucinations.

Soutine was born in 1893, in a Lithuanian village of wooden houses near Minsk. The 10th of 11 children, he came from an extremely poor and extremely orthodox Jewish family. By the age of 13, he was regularly sketching on scraps of paper and even walls - much to the disgust of his father (who beat him for his trouble) and the derision of his brothers (who saw his juvenilia as nothing short of sacrilegious). Aged 16, he nearly died of a beating from the family of a religious Jew he had asked to pose. The compensation he received for his injuries paid for the journey to Vilna, where he enrolled at art school. He ended up in Paris, where he was taught for a while by a former teacher of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.

But life outside Russia was not much easier for Soutine. As Tuchman relates, in Paris Soutine endured 'the kind of gnawing, continual want that can break one's will to work or live. It left a permanent scar on him.' The desperation is evident in his bloody still-lifes of dead pheasants, turkeys and ray fish that transcend the divide between beauty and ugliness.

Not that Soutine could believe this of his own work. He would arrange a series of canvasses on the floor, as if for exhibition, study them for hours, then seize a knife and plunge it into those he disliked. He would destroy works immediately if anyone expressed the slightest reservation about their quality, or if the viewer happened to remark that they were reminiscent of another artist.

Nevertheless, around 500 paintings were spared. Collectors snapped them up when there was a chance to buy. In 1923, the American collector, Albert Barnes, bought every painting in Soutine's studio (said to have been between 50 and 100): he later declared that 'Soutine is a far more important artist than Van Gogh'. One historian described Soutine as the heir of Tintoretto, El Greco and Rembrandt (whose own 1655 painting of a beef carcass inspired Soutine). Yet there has not been a major Soutine exhibition for decades. It is long overdue.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game