Chaim Soutine

A Belarusian yeshiva boy becomes an icon of Parisian art.

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A Tragic End

In 1937, just before the Nazis took over France in the Vichy regime, Soutine's works were exhibited in the show of Independent Art held in Paris. Here he was at last acclaimed in the press and public opinion as a great painter. But shortly after the show ended, Soutine was forced to flee Paris and stay wherever he could to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He often had to sleep outdoors in the forests and farms surrounding Paris. At that time he was romantically involved with a woman he called Mademoiselle Garde, who accompanied him in his fugitive pursuit. She was tragically captured and interned in a camp in the Pyrenees; he was never to see her again.

It was during this stressful period of persecution that a life-long health problem that had kept him out of military service re-emerged. With an increasingly painful stomach ulcer, Soutine sought medical help from a doctor who insisted that he immediately get an ambulance to Paris. Unfortunately the ambulance was delayed and on August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died after emergency surgery. He was buried in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.  His funeral was attended by Pablo Picasso, the playwright Jean Cocteau, the poet Max Jacob, and other cultural luminaries of the time.

After his death, Soutine's reputation as one of the foremost Expressionist painters was established, and his works were bought up by top collectors. They now sell for prices between $180,000 and $2,500,000. Today Soutine's emotionally-tinged landscapes and misshapen portraits adorn the walls of several prominent museums in the US, Europe, and Israel. He has had career retrospective exhibitions at both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Jewish Museum in New York. Next to Marc Chagall, Soutine is considered one of the 20th century's premier Jewish artists, though none of his work explicitly addressed Jewish themes. But in the wake of his tragic death, Soutine became a symbol of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that he died of natural causes and was never placed in a detention camp, his story of emigration, assimilation and destruction outlines the tragedy of European Jewish life.

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Jessica Kraft

Jessica Kraft is a writer, educator, and artist based in San Francisco, CA.