Exhibition from 7 October 2020 to 25 January 2021
"I’VE ALWAYS BEEN CRAZY ABOUT SOUTINE - ALL OF HIS PAINTINGS"
W. de Kooning
The considerable turning point in the work of Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)—his major pictorial project Woman—unfolded as the painter turned to and confronted the artistic world of Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943). Discovering his paintings as of the 1930s, then in 1950 at the MoMA’s retrospective, and lastly during his visit to the Barnes Foundation with his wife Elaine in June 1952, the American artist developed a unique form of expressionism between figurative art and abstraction.
Indeed, Soutine was an influence on the post-war generation of painters through his paintings’ expressive force and his legend as a cursed artist with the vicissitudes and excesses of a Parisian bohemian. His work was especially promoted in the United States from the 1930s to the 1950s. In 1923, Albert Barnes devoted an exhibition to him, having recently acquired, based on advice from Paul Guillaume, dozens of works by the artist for his foundation in Philadelphia. In 1930, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Alfred Barr presented several works by Soutine alongside paintings by Matisse and Picasso in Paintings from Paris in American Collections. Lastly, a major series of exhibitions took place in 1936 and 1937 in American galleries (including the Valentine Gallery and the Bignou Gallery) and interest in the painter remained strong in the United States right up to a dedicated event paying tribute to the artist after his death, in the MoMA’s 1950 retrospective. There, his work was presented as a precedent for American painting, with the artist seen as a prophet and herald of abstract expressionism.
Better than anyone else, de Kooning saw in his works a tension between two apparent opposites, a search for structure combined with a passionate relation with the history of art, and a clearly informal tendency. Soutine’s oeuvre therefore formed a touchstone in de Kooning’s unique explorations, leading to a third way: a path out of the antagonism between figurative and abstract art, on which the art critic Clement Greenberg in particular founded his theories.
The exhibition will feature a dialogue between the distinctive worlds of these two artists through around fifty works based on major themes: tension between figures and shapelessness, fleshiness in painting, figures and landscape, and the studio, as well as the key moments of this story, including the MoMA’s 1950 Soutine retrospective and de Kooning’s visit to the Barnes Foundation in 1952.
This public display—the first on this subject—is part of the series of temporary exhibitions that the Musée de l’Orangerie has put forward based on its collection, especially that of Paul Guillaume, following Apollinaire. The Eyes of the Poet (2016), Dada Africa, Non-Western Sources and Influences (2017), and Giorgio de Chirico. Metaphysical Painting (2020), and it returns to the question of reception in the United States, after Water Lilies. American Abstraction and the Last Monet (2018).
The exhibition is organised jointly with the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia, which holds the second-biggest collection of Soutine’s works after the Musée de l’Orangerie, constituted based on advice from Paul Guillaume, an art dealer and an advisor to Albert Barnes. It enjoys support from the Willem de Kooning Foundation, New York, and from the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Exhibition displayed at the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia from 7 March to 6 June 2021
Claire Bernardi, Curator at the Musée d’Orsay
Simonetta Fraquelli, Curator for the Barnes Foundation