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The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York, NY 10128

The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York, NY 10128
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Sat, Aug 25

Saturday, August 25, 2018

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Sat, Sep 1

Saturday, September 1, 2018

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Fri, Sep 7

Friday, September 7, 2018

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2 PM

Gallery Talk
Chaim Soutine: A Closer Look

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Wed, Sep 12

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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Verbal Description Tour
For Visitors Who are Blind or Have Low Vision

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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Drawing Connections: The Life of Objects

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Thu, Sep 13

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Members-Only Preview
Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk, 1918-1922

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Fri, Sep 14

Friday, September 14, 2018

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2 PM

Gallery Talk
Chaim Soutine: A Closer Look

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Sat, Sep 15

Saturday, September 15, 2018

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Welcome to the Jewish Museum, a museum in New York City at the intersection of art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds. Whether you visit our home in the elegant Warburg mansion on Museum Mile, or engage with us online, there is something for everyone. Through our exhibitions, programs, and collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media, visitors can journey through 4,000 years of art and Jewish culture from around the world.


As an art museum representing the diversity of Jewish culture and identity, the Jewish Museum believes in free expression and an open society. We embrace multiple viewpoints regardless of race, gender, national origin, or religion, and we oppose discrimination in all its forms.


Our exhibitions and public programs provide platforms for cross-cultural dialogue, fostering empathy, mutual understanding, and respect. We champion the powerful roles art and artists can play in our communities, both inside and outside the Museum’s walls.

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The Jewish Museum is dedicated to the enjoyment, understanding, and preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of the Jewish people through its unparalleled collections and distinguished exhibitions. Learn More

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The Jewish Museum was founded in 1904 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where it was housed for more than four decades. Located along New York's Museum Mile, this elegant former residence has been the home of the Museum since 1947. Learn More

Stories

The Metamorphosis of Chaim Soutine: II. The Carcasses... Read More

In the next chapter of our series, discover how Soutine navigated interwar Parisian society and the complexities of his own artistic identity as a Jewish émigré.

Chaim Soutine, “Carcass of Beef”, c. 1925, oil on canvas. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1939, Artwork © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In the summer of 1912, six years after the exoneration of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer wrongly accused of treason, and just two years before the outbreak of the Great War (1914–18) the Jewish immigrant Chaim Soutine arrived in Paris. Carrying with him fifty loaned rubles given to him in Vilna, he eventually settled in one of the studios of “La Ruche” (“The Beehive”) in Montparnasse. Fortunately, many Yiddish-speaking eastern European Jewish artists inhabited this warren of ateliers. One of them, Marc Chagall (1887–1985), described the milieu as follows:

I moved into another studio more in keeping with my means, in “La Ruche” (The Hive). That was the name given to the hundred-odd ateliers surrounded by a small garden, close to the Vaugirard slaughterhouses. These ateliers were occupied by artistic Bohemians from all over the world. While an offended model sobbed in the Russian ateliers, the Italian studios rang with songs and the sound of guitars, the Jewish ones with discussions . . . this is where the Bohemians, Italians and Jews live . . . It’s not far from the slaughterhouse, where skillful toughs savagely slaughter my poor cows (Chagall, 103).

The studio complex offered a space in which artists could live cheaply. Soutine was unable to find a studio initially: the artist relied on squatting and sharing with others. He enrolled in the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Fernand Cormon. Due to his poverty, Soutine eventually quit the course and turned to learn from others — the masters of past time. The Louvre was a symbol of the cultural supremacy of Paris and housed artists from all over the globe. He would choose paintings by his favorite artists, Rembrandt or Chardin, artistic influences he would continue to emulate throughout his career. Élie Faure recalls seeing Soutine, mesmerized by Rembrandt:

I can see him approaching Rembrandt with a kind of reverent apprehension. He stood there for a long time lost in a trance, stamped his foot, and exclaimed: “It’s so beautiful it drives me mad”
(Bougault, 108).

The Louvre was also a space for bonding with other artists. His friend, Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), a Livorno-born Sephardic Jew, introduced the young and impressionable Soutine to artists new to him — Goya, Velázquez, Giotto, Botticelli, Tintoretto. Soutine greatly admired his bohemian and educated friend who, unlike Soutine, openly discussed his Jewishness with strangers and was known to impulsively proclaim “I am a Jew” when introducing himself in Montparnasse. Modigliani was already fluent in French on arrival in Paris. Soutine was part of a period of extensive migration to the west in the early part of the last century. In addition to the growing circle of Jewish artists, there was a surge of shtetl Jews leaving the Russian Empire for France as a result of the failed revolution of 1905 (Hyman, 117). With the enlarged Yiddish community in Paris, in 1913, the immigrants requested that the Paris council of cardinals appoint an eastern European cantor at the synagogue of the rue Sainte-Isaure, in the eighteenth arrondissement. The council responded:

The question which arises is the following: must they be given a functionary who will satisfy them as regards the chants and melodies of their country, but who will really not be, we won’t say French, but au courant of our customs or even French language, and therefore not of our mentality. The matter is especially important since in Montmartre it’s a question of molding, of educating . . . this population (Hyman, 127).

The French Jewish community was reluctant to accept the new arrivals, partly due the problem of language. Artists such as Soutine and Marc Chagall arrived in Paris with a linguistic disadvantage. Chagall recalled that in Paris,

“I felt at every step that I was a Jew — people made me feel it! Whenever I had any dealings with the young artists’ group, they hung my pictures (if they consented to hang them at all) in the remotest, darkest corner . . . And I thought: it must be because I am a Jew and have no country of my own” (Chagall, 105).

This aspect of identity would affect Soutine’s artistic output as well as his art historical reputation.

An earlier work by Soutine: “Still Life with Fruit”, 1919, oil on canvas. Private collection. Photograph by Reginart Collections

No work by Soutine remains from the earliest years following his arrival. At a tumultuous point in his life, filled with artistic uncertainty, his earliest paintings are dated to 1915–1916. The artist was notorious for attacking his paintings with his knife. From much later in his career, his patron, Madeleine Castaing recounted Soutine’s destructive tendencies:

That evening, in bed, we heard Soutine open the door to his room, go past our door and up the stairs to the attic. My husband rushed out and I followed. “Soutine, stop!” He had a bottle of petrol! “Soutine, it’s a masterpiece! It’s a crime!”(Castaing, 15–18).

During World War I, the Russian artist Marie Vorobëv (Marevna) recalls how, “life became very hard for foreigners, students and artists . . . all privileges were withdrawn for foreign artists as the war dragged on, in order to extend to French families” (Vorobëv, 54). Immigrants seeking refuge in Paris were excluded from the draft, yet the war provided opportunity. By pledging their loyalty to France, it was possible to speed the process of integration as a resident of France. Shtetl-born artists like Simon Mondzain (1887–1979) volunteered for the foreign legion and in the process gained improved residency status. Soutine, who desired to prove himself, volunteered, only to be rejected due to, “stomach ulcers, being subject to fits, and a defective left eye” (Vorobëv, 55). Instead, Soutine enlisted in a work brigade digging trenches, but his poor health did not allow him to continue.

Chaim Soutine: Flesh, with “Fish, Peppers, Onions“ c. 1919 from The Barnes Foundation on the left. Installation view: The Jewish Museum, New York. Photo by: Jason Mandella

In the early 1920s, Soutine’s aspiration towards assimilation was partially granted. He no longer needed to rely on small stipends from his dealer, after the sale of some fifty paintings to the Philadelphian collector, Dr. Albert Barnes. Following this important sale, throughout the following decade, Soutine painted still-life, inspired by paintings in the Louvre. He also enrolled in French lessons and improved his previously impoverished appearance. His desire to shed his identity as a Yiddish-speaking Jew suddenly appeared possible with fiscal success. After the stock market crash of 1929, Soutine spent summers with his patrons, Madeleine and Marcellin Castaing, a wealthy couple at whose country house in Lèves, Soutine painted from 1930 to 1935.

Nevertheless, in 1925, the critic Fritz Vanderpyl wrote mockingly of Jewish artists in Paris:

When going to visit the galleries of painting in the Louvre, from the bottom to the top and from one end to the other, for as many hours as you want . . . we will not find a single Jewish work, except—if you want—Seated Peasant Woman by C. Pissarro . . . If the names of his parents and his father’s profession were not enough to prove that Rembrandt, the son of a miller near Leyden, was of pure Christian descent . . . Well two years or two and a half years after the war, a friend of mine draws my attention to an article in a small avant-garde magazine in which we saw a young Pole from the Montparnasse district called “the greatest Jewish painter after Rembrandt” (Vanderpyl, 386–396).

Vanderpyl identified Rembrandt as a gentile, but there was more to Rembrandt’s identity than this. Living in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam in 1639, Rembrandt shared more similarities with artists such as Soutine than the critic allowed. When Rembrandt first arrived in the Breestraat in 1626, his Sephardi neighbors were new arrivals to Holland (Nadler, 9). Rembrandt developed relationships with them and in some respects was a part of the Jewish community. Thus in 1655, Rembrandt painted a slaughtered ox. Drained of its blood, the beast appears to have been slaughtered by a kosher butcher; and in the 1920s, Rembrandt’s painting was displayed in the Louvre for Soutine to admire. For Jewish artists, Rembrandt was not simply a gentile, but an artist, one whose work represented aspects of Jewish life which were accorded the highest honor of the Louvre — whether Old Testament scenes or the depiction of a slaughtered cow.

Rembrandt, “Jews in the Synagogue”, 1648, etching and drypoint on paper. The Jewish Museum, New York

Soutine venerated Rembrandt above all others. In Paris where Soutine remained an outsider, Rembrandt represented an artist whose success flourished on the boundaries of both the gentile and Jewish communities. The Russian artist and friend of Soutine, Marevna, recalls, “Soutine admired Rembrandt not only as supreme master and great humanist, but also because he was absorbed in Jews and their art and depicted many incidents from Jewish life” (Vorobëv, 168). Inspired by the Dutch master, Soutine created variations of the theme in a series of beef carcasses. To explore his composition, Soutine purchased an entire carcass. He installed the beef in his studio and would periodically add fresh blood, to maintain the freshly slaughtered appearance until completion of his work.

Chaim Soutine: Flesh. Installation view: The Jewish Museum, New York. Photo by: Jason Mandella

In one example Soutine highlights the gaping torso with thick bands of bright red brushstrokes, against a brilliant blue background. Soutine repeated the motif, documenting the carcass in the process of decomposition. His first interpretations are in vivid reds and bright blues; eventually, however, in The Beef, Soutine paints a yellowed animal carcass against a background of more somber blues. Szittya recorded the artist’s reference to the butcher of his childhood: “when I painted the beef carcass it was my cry that I wanted to liberate. I still have not succeeded.” By painting the beef carcass, Soutine attempted to overcome his inner cry of vulnerability by raising himself to a position of power — as both butcher and as the creator, an artist aspiring to the greatness of the past.

Despite the success following the Barnes purchase, Soutine did not resolve the dualities of his identity — his status as an outsider in Paris and his desire to transcend that position. Soutine worked to improve his French and began to dress well, but the artist was unable to discard his origins. Marevna wrote that Soutine, “loved France sincerely as a second country, however Soutine was fully and painfully aware that he was an immigrant and a Jew.” Throughout the entirety of his career, Soutine traveled away from France only a handful of times — on each occasion, to visit Rembrandt’s paintings in the Rijksmuseum. In interwar Paris, the oeuvre of Rembrandt resonated with other Jewish artists experiencing conflictive identities. Chagall, in describing his dual identity as an outsider, wrote in his autobiography:

I would rather think of my parents, of Rembrandt, my mother, Cézanne, my grandfather, my wife. I would have gone to Holland, to the south of Italy, to Provence, and stripping off my clothes, I would have said: “You see my friends, I’ve come back to you. I’m unhappy here. The only thing I want is to paint pictures, and something more.” Neither Imperial Russia nor Soviet Russia needs me. I am a mystery, a stranger to them. I’m certain Rembrandt loves me (Chagall, 170).
Chaim Soutine: Flesh, with “Rabbit” c. 1924 second from right. Installation view: The Jewish Museum, New York. Photo by: Jason Mandella

Soutine’s later carcasses were devoted to the hare. Similar to the painter’s representations of fowl, Rabbit is depicted floating in the air, its legs tied to an invisible rope, dramatically cutting off the animal’s leg. But the innards are no longer visible as in his first depiction of a carcass: the artist shows the animal as vulnerable in a different manner. The creature is emaciated and barely illuminated by a light source. The body’s forelegs hang limply, covering the muzzle of the animal. The skin is jaundiced, emphasized by brushstrokes of sickly yellow and green; the creature seems to have hung in a necrotic state for several days. These last carcasses are more restrained and no longer as energetically displayed as the obsessively treated fowl, which recall the trauma of Soutine’s childhood experience.

After painting dozens of carcasses in the mid-1920s, in subsequent years Soutine turned more to portraiture and landscape. In 1927, Soutine was accorded his first one-person show in Paris at the Galerie Bing and gained the support of reliable patrons. By the end of the decade, the artist no longer found it necessary to allegorize his internal battle with the tortured process of assimilation. By 1928, in terms of his subject matter, Soutine appears to have resolved one aspect of his creative turmoil.

Ori Hashmonay, Guest Contributor,
with Stephen Brown, Curator, the Jewish Museum

The present text is an adaptation and revision of parts from Ori Erna Hashmonay, “You for death, me for Chaïm: the carcasses of Chaïm Soutine,” [B.A.] Senior honors thesis, Department of Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April 2, 2018, sponsor, Dr. Daniel Sherman (thesis advisor)

Works Cited

Valérie Bougault, Paris Montparnasse: The Heyday of Modern Art, 1910–1940, Paris: Pierre Terrail, 1997.

Madeleine Castaing, “Memories of Soutine,” in Arts Council of Great Britain, London, Chaim Soutine, 1893–1943, edited by Ernst-Gerhard Güse, exh. cat. 1982.

Marc Chagall, My Life (1965). London and Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: P. Owen, Humanities Press, 1985.

Paula Hyman, The Jews of Modern France, Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1998.

Steven M Nadler, Rembrandt’s Jews, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Marevna Vorobëv, Life with the painters of la Ruche, Athelhampton, Dorset, U.K.: Constable, 1972.

Fritz Vanderpyl, “Existe-il une peinture juive?” Mercure de France (1925).

Chaim Soutine: Flesh is on view at the Jewish Museum through September 16, 2018. Purchase tickets to the final weeks of the exhibition online.


The Metamorphosis of Chaim Soutine: II. The Carcasses of Soutine was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Warburg Mansion for All Read More

Digital Intern Jeremy Wolin explores the history of the Jewish Museum’s Warburg mansion in conjunction with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Line drawing of the original Warburg Mansion as seen on the cover of
1109 The Warburg House by Edward M. M. Warburg

When I came to intern at the Jewish Museum this summer, I found myself drawn to the Museum both as an institution at the intersection of art and Jewish identity, and as an example of adaptive reuse: the Jewish Museum’s home on Fifth Avenue — the historic Warburg mansion designed by C. P. H. Gilbert — was once the family home of Felix and Frieda Schiff Warburg. As a practice that is often more historically respectful and ecologically sustainable than new construction, adaptive reuse allows old buildings to take on new life. Evolving standards for the spaces in which we live however, also present challenges to reusing historic structures.

One such evolution was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, which we recently honored last month through highlighting programs that make the Jewish Museum accessible to all. In addition to influencing programing at the museum, the ADA played a crucial role in the architectural design of the Jewish Museum building. Signed into law in 1990, the ADA and its regulations became effective in the years following. Conceived in 1989 and completed in 1993, the Jewish Museum’s most recent renovation by architect Kevin Roche coincided with the law’s passing in the United States, and thus adhered to the new requirements for public spaces.

The Jewish Museum’s Vera and Albert List Building (left) built in 1963 and the Warburg mansion (right). Photograph c. 1967.

Reusing a historic structure for a new purpose presents many challenges. Spaces that might seem large enough for a few private inhabitants (such as family members) might seem cramped for a large public crowd. Since its conversion from a private mansion to a public museum in 1947, the Jewish Museum at 1109 Fifth Avenue has seen multiple major renovations, including the addition of the Vera and Albert List Building designed by Samuel Glaser in 1963, which provided flexible modern galleries and an outdoor sculpture court, plus the 1993 expansion project by Kevin Roche that doubled the footprint of the Museum.

Of the many new considerations applied to American public life, the ADA’s section on building code had major impact on architecture at large. Since the passage of the ADA, all places of public accommodation — government buildings, museums and libraries, schools, and stores —have been required to make themselves accessible to visitors with disabilities, including individuals with low vision and those who use wheelchairs. These stipulations also included entrances and public pathways to the Museum.

The new wheelchair-accessible entrance to the Jewish Museum during construction. Photograph from 1993.

Constructed decades before nationwide consciousness of the needs of people with disabilities and the passage of the ADA, neither the original Warburg mansion nor the 1963 List addition contained entrances accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. Making the museum’s newly expanded space accessible to all visitors was therefore an objective of the 1993 renovation. The Warburg mansion’s original entrance was an ornately embellished doorway reachable by a short staircase. The unique shape and small area would have likely prevented the addition of a ramped entrance there.

To solve this, the architects located a window between the main entrance and the staff entrance, and lowered the opening so that it reached street level. Behind the exterior wall, a ramp leads from this new doorway into the main lobby space, and is always reachable when the Museum is open to the public. This specific conversion was not uncommon in adaptive reuse: converting a window to a door honors the original placement of openings in the facade, and is more cost-effective than creating an entirely new opening.

Within museum spaces, the ADA also required that all galleries and major routes must also be accessible. This included guidelines on the minimum width of routes, turning radii, and path clearance, such that visitors in wheelchairs could safely navigate through a space.

These needs are also reflected in changes to the Jewish Museum’s interior spaces, namely in the removal of the grand central staircase that was once the centerpiece of the Warburg mansion. In its place, two sets of fire stairs and two wheelchair-accessible elevators form the core of the present-day museum, making the Jewish Museum’s offices and galleries — stacked vertically across six floors — accessible to all Museum visitors and staff.

The grand central staircase of the Warburg building. Photograph from 1947.

Adaptive reuse often consists of difficult decisions that pit multiple needs against each other, and often arrives at compromises such as these: the removal of a central architectural feature to increase safety and access, or the side-lining of an accessible entrance to preserve the original features of an historically-significant doorway. Few projects are perfect, but the reuse of existing structures helps to preserve the architecture of the past while sustainably addressing the needs of the present. In examining the historic architecture of the Jewish Museum and its evolution over the years, it becomes clear how watershed laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act have helped bring institutions who seek to welcome a broader audience closer to that goal.

— Jeremy Lee Wolin, Digital Intern

To learn more about the history of the Jewish Museum’s Warburg Mansion, visit TheJewishMuseum.org or follow #WarburgWednesday on social media.


A Warburg Mansion for All was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Metamorphosis of Chaim Soutine: I. The Shtetl... Read More

A Jewish artist born Haïm Sutin, Chaim Soutine shied away from overtly Jewish subjects. From poverty in an eastern European shtetl to the art circles of Paris, reconstruct his journey through Chaim Soutine: Flesh on view now at the Jewish Museum.

Soutine at Chatel-Guyon in central France (Puy-de- Dome), 1928. Image provided by the Kluver/Martin Archive
There must be something about us, he thought, that determines us to have a face, legs and arms, a belly, nose, eyes and mouth. He [the Renaissance artist] didn’t even mind that people were flesh-colored. Flesh was very important to a painter then. Both the church and the state recognized it. The interest in the difference of textures — between silk, wood, velvet, glass, marble — was there only in relation to flesh. Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented. Never before in history had it taken such a place in painting. For the Egyptians, it was something that didn’t last long enough; for the Greeks, it — and everything else — took on the texture of painted marble and plaster walls. But for the Renaissance artist, flesh was the stuff people were made of. It was because of man, and not in spite of him, that painting was considered an art.
–Willem de Kooning

I. The Shtetl and the Outsider

Chaim Soutine (1893–1943) was one of the outstanding artists of the twentieth century, one who gained recognition for his mastery in his lifetime. A Jew from eastern Europe, he emigrated from Vilna in Lithuania at the age of nineteen, in the summer of 1912, to pursue his vocation as a painter in Paris. Although often identified as Russian, Soutine spoke little Russian nor did he identify with the nationality. Until his adolescence, he was raised in a Yiddish-speaking village or shtetl, Smilovichi, today situated in Belarus. Towards the end of Soutine’s career, the writer and later collaborator under the German occupation, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (1893–1945) reviewed Soutine’s oeuvre, in quasi-messianic terms, describing the child, emerging,

“from a shadow like the fetus into the light. The light strikes him, makes him scream. Little Hercules fights back, in his power, but is forever wounded, forever insecure” (Drieu La Rochelle, 4).

Soutine’s birth was not nearly as theatrical as Drieu’s narrative imagines. Smilovichi was a shtetl, twenty kilometers from Minsk. The tenth of eleven children, Soutine’s early life experiences were marked by family poverty. Soutine expressed his resentment of his father and sympathy for Sarah, his hard-working mother:

“I still feel upset, even today when I think how much my mother went short for me! Feeding eleven children! More like twelve, for my father was like a child, always hungry and sometimes he would take a morsel off my plate for himself. It was awful for my mother to watch that. So she would go without, poor dear, and I am convinced she did without much” (Vorobëv, 23).

According to Drieu La Rochelle, Soutine, “received the gift of painting from birth, but this gift burned his eyes and brain like a red-hot iron” (4). In this way the critic poetically depicted the suffocation of the boy’s artistic talent by his family and community. Raised in a strict Orthodox village, figural representation was forbidden, given the community’s adhesion to Jewish law and the second commandment:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus, 20: 4–6)
Soutine with a chicken, hanging in front of a broken brick wall, Le Blanc, western France (Indre), 1927.

In an act of rebellion, Soutine would sketch images of his family and surroundings with charcoal on walls and scraps of paper. As he grew older, Soutine would often escape to the forest at night, stealing a lump of sugar or boiled potato, only returning once the hunger grew too bothersome to bear. Given the conditions of poverty, the few times that the family could afford meat were holidays, such as the eve of Yom Kippur.

Among the traditions of the shtetls of eastern Europe: “ it was a custom to transfer your sins to a chicken on the day before Yom Kippur. This was called shlugn kapures. Each person would say a prayer while swinging a chicken over his or her head, a rooster for a male and a hen for a female. At the end of the prayer, you would point to the bird and say three times, “You for death, me for life.” The chicken was our scapegoat. If you were rich, you would give the chicken to poor people. Otherwise, you would carry the bird to the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] to be killed. You would cook it and eat it as part of the last meal before the Yom Kippur fast” (Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 105).

Chaim Soutine, Chicken Hung Before a Brick Wall, c. 1927, oil on canvas. Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland. Artwork © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Image provided by Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

The memory was deeply impressed on Soutine’s consciousness. Following the war, the writer Émile Szittya reflected on the anxiety of the war years and Soutine’s reported description of the slaughter of a bird, in his native shtetl:

. . . Soutine could feel the gaze of the Gestapo on his back. His eyes were clouded with fear. It was probably around this time that he recalled: “The butcher of my native village looked like something out of the comic-opera. I did not realize it then; now I know it.”
He became lost in thought for a long time and added, “Once I saw this butcher cut the throat of a goose and bleed it. I wanted to cry out but his joyful look forced the cry back into my throat.”
Soutine stroked his neck and continued: “this cry, I still feel it there. When, still a child, I awkwardly sketched the portrait of my teacher, it was this cry that I wanted to be rid of, but in vain! When I painted the flayed ox it was still this cry that I wanted to free. I could never do it” (Szittya 107).
Chaim Soutine, Self Portrait, c. 1918. Oil on canvas. The Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection on long term loan to Princeton University Art Museum. L.1988.62.23.

The rejection of Soutine’s art by his community would lead to his departure from the shtetl and to his flight to Paris. At the age of ten, Soutine had risked ostracism by making the portrait of a religious figure in his village. Following this outrage, Soutine was violently attacked by the sons and friends of the sitter and left to die. He did not recover easily, yet in a life-changing twist of fate, Soutine’s mother appealed for compensation. A small sum granted by the local court afforded Soutine the means to leave the village.

In 1909, Soutine briefly studied privately in Minsk before departing for Vilna to study at the academy of art. Nothing of his artistic production survives from the time in Vilna, but a childhood friend recounted how he created sketches of, “sadness, misery, and suffering.” Soutine would stage Jewish funerals, using his friend as a model, prostrate, and covered with a sheet (Tuchman, 9). He would immediately destroy the sketches, dissatisfied with his efforts. Luckily for Soutine, Vilna was home to a supportive Jewish community and when the artist was hungry he would simply knock on doors until someone gave him food. Vilna was not immune to anti-Semitism, however, and Soutine was subject to discrimination. The director of the academy is said to have destroyed the rare letters Soutine received from his parents because they were written in Yiddish. Eventually, Soutine accumulated the sum of fifty rubles, aided by a Jewish family of the city (Dr. Rafelkess), enough to depart for Paris, which represented to the young artist’s eyes, “the promised land.” After a difficult childhood as an outsider within an outcast community, Soutine desired to live as a Jew, and as a “man like the others,” but, above all, as an artist (Szittya, 23).

— Ori Hashmonay, Guest Contributor,
with Stephen Brown, Curator, the Jewish Museum

The present text is an adaptation and revision of parts from Ori Erna Hashmonay, “You for death, me for Chaïm: the carcasses of Chaïm Soutine,” [B.A.] Senior honors thesis, Department of Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April 2, 2018, sponsor, Dr. Daniel Sherman (thesis advisor).

Works Cited

Drieu La Rochelle (Pierre-Eugène Drieu La Rochelle, 1893–1945) “Soutine,” Formes: revue internationale des arts plastiques 5 (May 1930): 4. For detail on the life and career of the artist see: Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow, Klaus Perls, Chaim Soutine (1893–1943): catalogue raisonné, Werkverzeichnis, 2 vols, Köln: Benedikt Taschen, 1993, editorial committee: Esti Dunow, Guy Loudmer, Klaus Perls, Maurice Tuchman.

Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, They called me Mayer July: painted memories of a Jewish childhood in Poland before the Holocaust S. Mark Taper Foundation Imprint in Jewish Studies, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, Judah L. Magnes Museum, 2007.

Michel Lebrun-Franzaroli. Soutine, l’homme et le peintre . . .. Prigny (Loire-Atlantique): Michel LeBrun-Franzaroli (2012) 2nd ed. 2015.

Emile Szittya, Soutine et son temps Souvenirs et documents, Paris: Bibliothèque des arts, 1955, 107.

Maurice Tuchman, “Chaim Soutine: 1893–1943,” exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, February 20-April 14, 1968.

Marevna Vorobëv, Life with the painters of la Ruche, Athelhampton, Dorset, U.K.: Constable, 1972.

Chaim Soutine: Flesh is on view at the Jewish Museum through September 16, 2018. Purchase tickets to the final weeks of the exhibition online.


The Metamorphosis of Chaim Soutine: I. The Shtetl and the Outsider was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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