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Soutine's Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys

Soutine's Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys


Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943) was one of the most significant modern painters in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, he produced a series of extraordinary portraits of cooks, waiters, bellboys and other staff from France’s golden age of grand hotels and fashionable restaurants. These paintings have long been considered some of the artist’s most iconic works. This publication is the first devoted to this important portrait series and accompanies a major exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery – the only time that this outstanding group of masterpieces has ever been brought together and the first exhibition of Soutine’s work in London for over thirty years. 


Soutine produced some of the most powerful and expressive portraits of modern times. His ability to capture in paint the character, humanity and emotion of his sitters is the hallmark of Soutine’s greatest work. The major exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, London, focuses upon one of his most important series of portraits; his paintings of cooks, waiters and bellboys who sat for him in Paris and the South of France during the 1920s. These works helped to establish Soutine’s reputation as a major avant-garde painter, seen by many as the twentieth centuryheir to van Gogh. 


Soutine arrived in Paris as an émigré from Russia in 1913 and began a precarious existence as a penniless artist in Montparnasse living among fellow painters, such as Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani. As part of this avant-garde coterie of artists, Soutine developed a highly original style that combined an expressive handling of paint with deep reverence for the Old Masters that he studied in the Louvre. His portraits often appear both timeless and vividly modern. These qualities are exemplified by the series of paintings of cooks, waiters and bellhops that he produced during the 1920s. These lowly and often-overlooked figures from Paris’s fashionable hotels and restaurants, including the famous Maxim’s, appealed to Soutine’s sense that profound emotion and a deep sense of humanity could be found in such humble sitters. The contrast between their working uniforms and the individuality of their faces adds to the emotional charge of these extraordinary portraits. Soutine strived to achieve the most powerful effects of colour from the bold whites, reds and blues of their different uniforms. When he started the series, Soutine was living in near-poverty as a struggling artist. These portraits helped to lift him out of these desperate circumstances as they were soon admired by friends and become prized by collectors. Today, they are considered among his greatest achievements. 


Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys is the first exhibition of Soutine’s work in London for over thirty years and it is the first time that this outstanding group of masterpieces has ever been brought together. The catalogue is also the first publication devoted to this important portrait series and offers an unique opportunity to experience the power and profound emotion of Soutine’s art.

  • Karen Serres & Barnaby Wright

    ISBN 978 1 911300 21 2

    Paperback, 260 x 216 mm

    152 pages, 80 colour illus.

    £25 / €30 / $35

  • Exhibition

    The Courtauld Gallery, London,

    19 October 2017 – 22 January 2018

  • In the press

    ★★★★★ "Tremendous ... the show is its own knockout experience requiring no explanations if you are at all intrigued by painters painting. But the catalogue adds a layer of fascination." —Evening Standard 


    ★★★★ "Crushed into uniforms, forced to play one part or another on the social stage, the vulnerable, meaty essence of humanity keeps spilling out. Painting between two European wars that reduced people first to cattle then to ash, Soutine celebrates the rawness of our shared predicament. " —Guardian


    ★★★★ "A rare and remarkable series of studies that reflect the tensions between the anonymity and the individuality of the serving class." —Telegraph 


    ★★★★ "A savagely attentive painter." —Independent


    ★★★★ "A superb, unsettling show" —The Arts Desk 


    "Excellent essays" —LRB

    "Excellent survey"  —Wall Street Journal 


    "Marvellous … of art-historical importance, but even more it demonstrates a triumph of imagination and human empathy, from a period of social extremes not so unlike our own." —Financial Times 


    "Chaïm Soutine’s worker portraits are superb … a little gem of a show." —The Times 


    "These figures take centre-stage in the dark theatre of Soutine's art, with its urgent and expressive distortions. He sees the profundity in the humblest of sitters." —RA Magazine


    "Given his lowly background, it’s no surprise that when Soutine turned his hand to portraiture, he took Paris’s humble service staff as his subjects … these portraits are very much alive." —New York Review of Books


    "Marvellous … there’s a lot of pathos in this show. A lot of projection. But what it is most full of is blasts of pictorial courage that make the efforts of other painters of the epoch feel tepid." —The Sunday Times


    "You can keep your angelic Chagalls and your pretty Modiglianis, the grubby, grotesque expressionism of their counterpart Chaim Soutine is far more appealing." —Time Out


    "Powerful images of a new social class of service personnel … considered among his greatest achievements." —Apollo 


    "This fascinating exhibition brings together for the first time Soutine’s portraits of the pâtissiers, chefs, butchers, waiters, grooms, valets, bellhops and chambermaids of France’s grand hotels and restaurants in the boom years between the wars." —Spectator 


    "Touching collection of portraits." —Town and Country 

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