Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art has announced an important new acquisition by Lithuanian-Jewish École de Paris artist Chaïm Soutine (1893 -1943) – one of the most celebrated and influential painters of the twentieth-century.
La Soubrette (Waiting Maid), c. 1933, is of international importance and has been acquired with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, he Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Plus generous donations from philanthropists from the UK, Europe and the USA . All have helped to share Ben Uri’s vision of continually strengthening its internationally renowned museum collection, and ensuring the painting is saved for London and the nation.
La Soubrette is a compelling example of Soutine’s figurative work from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Focusing on a single subject in an unadorned background, the painting depicts an anonymous domestic maid dressed in the uniform of her profession. Soutine’s tactile brushwork creates a direct engagement with his subject, underlining the maid’s individuality rather than reducing it, yet her pinched face and downcast eyes express weariness and a certain submission. The portrait belongs to a period in the early 1930s when Soutine turned away from the hotel staff and cooks of his earlier portraits and towards the domestic staff of bourgeois country estates. Although less figuratively contorted and less confrontational in character, it shares a number of stylistic, thematic and compositional devices with his earlier celebrated Pastry Cooks series, particularly the focus on a working-class figure in a service profession, and the contrast of the ruddy face against the white of the uniform.
Although Soutine did not respond directly to politics or his own Jewish ethnicity, it is interesting to note that the portrait was painted in 1933, the year in which Hitler rose to power in Germany leading to the forced emigration of many European artists as a result of ethnic, religious, cultural or political persecution in their native lands. Soutine was forced to escape Paris during the Nazi occupation, only returning to have an urgent operation for perforated stomach ulcers, from which he died in Paris in 1943.
La Soubrette is a significant addition to Ben Uri’s important collection of work by émigré artists and to its growing collection of work by other artists associated with the École de Paris. Most notable is Marc Chagall, for which the museum’s scholarship of this period enabled the acquisition of one of Chagall’s most important Jewish Crucifixions from 1945, acquired at auction in Paris in 2010.