The Little Pastry Cook

Le Petit Pâtissier

This portrait of a pastry cook was the decisive moment in Soutine’s career. Paul Guillaume, who was at that time looking for works by Modigliani, discovered Soutine through Michel Georges-Michel, a writer and art critic who had written an article on the painter. Then, in 1923, Paul Guillaume described the painting that he had acquired, in his review Les Arts à Paris, and which appears to be the one in the Barnes Foundation Collection in the United States: “an extraordinary, fascinating, real, and truculent pastry cook, afflicted with an immense and magnificent ear, surprising and just right: a masterpiece. So I bought it. Barnes saw it at my place, and cried "It's a peach!" The spontaneous pleasure he derived from this canvas would immediately change Soutine's fortunes, transforming him overnight into a recognised painter, sought after by patrons, and an artist to be taken seriously - a hero in Montparnasse." Soutine, who often worked in series, produced six versions of this same subject that we know of today. Paul Guillaume bought this painting in the early 1930s in memory of the first Pastry Cook that he had liked so much. This extremely accomplished version in the Musée de l’Orangerie presents a model with an elongated face and fragile neck, wearing his pastry chef hat and jacket. His facial features and limbs are distorted, giving the painting a strong expressive power. The cloth he is holding, expressed in a flat, vivid red, contrasts with the surface of his clothes, rendered in white with touches of grey and green. The model’s pose could have been inspired by one of the paintings in the Musée du Louvre, Jean Fouquet’s Portrait de Charles VII [Portrait of Charles VII].

Provenance: L. Zborowski, Paris (1928); Jos Hessel, Paris (1930); Paul Guillaume; Domenica Walter