La Jeune polonaise exemplifies the extraordinary talents of Chaïm Soutine, one of the most innovative portraitists of the early 20th century. Rather than seeking glamorous models of high social status, Soutine instead turned to everyday people as a source of inspiration for his most successful works. Many of the models who posed for his pictures were relative unknowns from the working class, such as butchers, page boys, waiters and maids. In his wildly expressive depictions of these figures, Soutine is able to transform the appearance of his models from the commonplace to the truly outstanding. He achieves that effect in this arresting portrait of a young Polish girl painted in 1929.
Many of Soutine's models were of Eastern European origin, and his attraction to these figures reflected his own pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage. Although we know from the title that the sitter for this picture was Polish, it is unclear, exactly, who she was in the scheme of Soutine's daily life. According to the dealer Léopold Zborowski, the woman was a young poet, but Soutine later said that she was a professional model. Whoever she is, there is an air of mystery surrounding her as she poses against a background of deep blue tones. Seated before the artist, she appears intriguingly guarded as she shifts her gaze to a focal point beyond the scope of the picture plane. As he does for other portraits of women from the late 1920s and early 1930s (figs. 1 & 2), Soutine positions his model at close range, creating an intimacy that was not present in his earlier work. Indeed, at the time he painted this work at the end of the 1920s, Soutine had achieved considerable success as an artist, thanks largely to the promotion of his major patron, Dr Albert Barnes in the United States. Soutine's paintings were now more accepted for their eccentricities of style, and this was manifested in a newfound confidence that can be seen in his relationships with his subjects.
Shortly after Soutine completed this work, his dealer Zborowski sold it to the dealer René Gimpel, who kept it in his private collection. At a time when many in France still scoffed at Soutine's feverish manner of painting and his exaggerations of form, Gimpel was a fervent champion of Soutine's work and correctly predicted great things to come from this uniquely expressive painter. 'His is a star that's rising in the firmament of French painting,' Gimpel wrote of Soutine in 1927. 'His paintings, which couldn't find a buyer a year ago, today sell for tens of thousands of francs and increase in price every day' (quoted in Kenneth E. Silver, 'Where Soutine Belongs: His Art and Critical Reception in Paris Between the Wars,' in An Expressionist in Paris: The Paintings of Chaim Soutine (exhibition catalogue), The Jewish Museum, New York, 1998-99, p. 19).
Fig. 1, Chaim Soutine, Portrait de Lina, circa 1928-29, oil on canvas, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne
Fig. 2, Chaim Soutine, La Jeune anglaise, circa 1934, oil on canvas, Musée de l'Orangerie, Collection Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume
Fig. 3, Photograph of Soutine, circa mid-1930s
Oil on canvas
Edinburgh, The Royal Scottish Academy & London, Tate Gallery, Chaïm Soutine, 1963, no. 41a (titled The Polish Girl)
Paris, Pinacothèque, Soutine, 2007-08, no. 84, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Modigliani y su tiempo, 2008, no. 92, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
64.5 by 50cm. 25 3/8 by 19 3/4 in.
René Gimpel, Journal d'un collectionneur, Paris, 1963, mentioned p. 394, illustrated on the cover
Andrew Forge, Soutine, London, 1965, illustrated in colour pl. 36 (titled The Polish Girl)
Pierre Courthion, Soutine, peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, no. F, illustrated p. 271
Léopold Zborowski, Paris
René Gimpel, Paris & London (acquired from the above in 1929)
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Georges Halphen, Paris (acquired from the above in the 1940s)
Estate of Georges Halphen (sale: Christie's, New York, 5th November 2003, lot 276)
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner (in 2004)