Soutine's pictures, known for their textural bravura and focus on sensual beauty of objects, astounded his contemporaries. Whether portraits of the working class, depictions of local monuments or still-lifes, he was able to invest vernacular subjects with a raw beauty that set him apart from the rest of the avant-garde.
Painted circa 1924, Poissons et tomates epitomises Soutine's mature style, with its great expressiveness of execution, rhythmically charged brushstrokes and intense colours. The artist's still-lifes are imbued with an almost tactile presence. As the authors of the catalogue raisonné have commented: 'In the still-life paintings of the Cagnes period, 1922-25, Soutine demonstrated that he had absorbed the landscape lessons of Cagnes. In certain still-lifes the images read like one of these landscapes: the bird becomes a valley of vegetation, the pitcher a house, the fruit and cloth a mountain, the ladle a road. The table cushions the foreground and provides an entry point; the background corners intrude and enclose like fragments of sky. The forms now sit as volumes in a shallow space, contained within the ellipse-shaped composition. The elliptical composition is even more pronounced in certain still-lifes of these years and coincides with the emergence of a focal image - centralized, stabilized, identifiable and located clearly in space – a shared characteristic of the still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic suggestions in the landscapes [...] and still-lifes (the grasping claws or handlike forks) make us aware of the power of associations now originating for Soutine in the actual objects. The paint and stroke are as evocative of energy as ever, but the object depicted takes on greater and greater attention' (M. Tuchman, E. Dunow & K. Perls, op. cit., p. 340).
Throughout the years 1923-25, Soutine was going back and forth from Cagnes to Paris where he began to frequent the Louvre on a regular basis. It was thus that he became inspired by themes of the Old Masters whilst admiring the spatial and technical innovations of painters such as Manet (fig. 1). As well as echoing the magnificent still-lifes on display at the Louvre, the appetisingly arranged fish and lush red tomatoes in the present work also evoke the artist's obsession with food. 'There is no question as to the overwhelming importance food held for Soutine, both consciously and somewhat less consciously. As a child, he suffered terrible poverty and hunger. Food was obviously not an aspect of daily life that could be taken for granted. [...] Food and the rituals associated with it played a dominant role in the family, community, and religion [...]. Moreover, throughout his adult life Soutine suffered from stomach ulcers, a condition that affected his life on many levels [...]. Even when he achieved financial well-being, he was unable to eat the foods that he could not afford earlier in life. [...] The food that Soutine painted with such concentration – meat, fowl, fish – were the very foods prohibited to him. [...] In the still-life paintings of the early 1920s he has moved from a preoccupation with food images to a fixation on particular types of food – fish, fowl and beef. In these years it is especially upon fish that he concentrates, and ultimately emerges with a specific fish whose image he repeatedly paints' (ibid., pp. 339-340) (fig. 2).
In the present work, the restless agitation that permeated and stimulated the artist bursts into the richly coloured canvas; the artist projects this energy with the stroke of his virtuoso paintbrush. Maurice Tuchman has observed that 'the growing importance of individual brushstroke, the singular touch of the painter's hand, is shared by many modern Expressionists from van Gogh right through to the American Abstract Expressionists, passing through Soutine. The expressionist brushstroke is extremely loaded and self-conscious. Soutine's characteristic is not a line but a greasy smear left by some entrails' (ibid., p. 35). In this way, the bold creativity of Poissons et tomates appears to foreshadow the seething intensity of the subsequent avant-garde.
Fig. 1, Edouard Manet, Nature morte aux poissons, 1864, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Fig. 2, Chaïm Soutine, Nature morte à la raie, circa 1924, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Oil on canvas
New York, Museum of Modern Art & Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Modern Art, Soutine, 1950-51, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1923)
Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, A Century of Modern European Painting, 1961, no. 41
New York, Wildenstein & Co. & Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, Modern French Painting, 1962, no. 62, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
London, Tate Gallery & Edinburgh, Edinburgh Art Festival, Chaïm Soutine, 1963, no. 32, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1925)
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie
des Tuileries, Soutine, 1973, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1925)
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Chaïm Soutine 1893-1943, 1973, no. 35, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, The Jewish Museum, The Jewish Experience in the Art of the Twentieth Century, 1975-76, no. 229, illustrated in the catalogue
Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte; Tübingen, Kunsthalle; London, Hayward Gallery & Lucerne, Kunstmuseum, Chaïm Soutine, 1981-82, no. 63, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, Galleri Bellman, Chaïm Soutine, 1983-84, no. 21, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
61 by 81.3cm. 24 by 32in.
Margaret Breuning, 'The Cataclysmic World of Chaïm Soutine', in Art Digest, 15th November 1950, mentioned p. 11
'A Study of Soutine', in The Times Literary Supplement, 4th May 1951, mentioned p. 270
Jean Leymarie & Marcellin Castaing, Soutine, Paris, 1963, illustrated in colour pl. VI
Cordelia Oliver, 'Soutine and Modigliani', in Manchester Guardian, 20th August 1963, mentioned
Andrew Forge, Soutine, London, 1965, illustrated in colour pl. 27
Pierre Courthion, Soutine. Peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, illustrated p. 253; illustrated in colour p. 81 (as dating from 1926-27)
Raymond Cogniat, Soutine, Paris, 1973, illustrated in colour p. 40
Alfred Werner, Chaïm Soutine, New York, 1977, illustrated fig. 65 (as dating from circa 1925)
Lynne Cooke, 'London, Hayward Gallery: Soutine', in Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXIV, October 1982, mentioned p. 647
Nancy Princenthal, 'Chaim Soutine. Galleri Bellman', in Art News, vol. 83, March 1984, mentioned p. 209
Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, Chaim Soutine, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1993, vol. I, no. 57, illustrated in colour p. 417
Henri Bing, Paris
François Reichenbach, Paris
Mr & Mrs Jack I. Poses, New York (acquired by 1950)
Thence by descent to the present owners