December 14, 2018

Haunting Visages

In the paintings of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), we are fortunate to glimpse the work of one of this century’s great Jewish (and European) artists, and one of its major pre-war expressionists.

The creator of what has been described as churning brushwork is the subject of a retrospective: “An Expressionist in Paris: The Paintings of Chaim Soutine,” now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show, which arrives from the Jewish Museum in New York, is the artist’s first major West Coast exhibit in three decades.

Soutine is a painter who is impossible to pigeonhole, critics say. The New Yorker calls him “The last and most ferocious of the great European Expressionists.” The curators call him a “liminal” figure, one who is at the edge of things, having come of age between the immediate post-Cubist years in Paris and the advent of Surrealism.

The 55-painting show, therefore, does not strive to create a single definition of Soutine. Rather, three sections explore three critical interpretations of the artist: Soutine as a shtetl primitive; as a master French painter; and as a precursor of the New York Abstract Expressionists.