Soutine’s Portraits : Cooks, Waiters and Bell Boys.


The Obligatory Book that Accompanies the Show

Before visiting Melancolia at Somerset House (see previous post) I popped in the Courtauld Gallery. Again, I had been alerted to this show in a review in the Financial Times (Weekend, 21/22 October 2017): “Uniformed but Different: Soutine: The Russian-French painter’s portraits make an exceptional show”. I’d never heard of Soutine before but it looked and read to be something I would enjoy. I’d recently re-read Arnold Bennett’s “The Grand Babylon Hotel” (first published in 19o2) and the Soutine portraits are from a slightly later era.  Although his are French and not characters from The Savoy Hotel in London.  Near enough. [Here‘s a review of a 1950 show of Soutine’s work in the US and brief biography of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)].

Or listen here to a BBC World Service talk :

I was also reminded of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2003/2004 “Below Stairs : 400 years of servants’ portraits”. This show pre-dates (and maybe had an influence on?) the major opening-up of the Below Stairs regions of stately homes by the National Trust and others. I would say that today (with the additional influence of the TV series Downton Abbey and other programmes and feature films) there is barely a single big house that doesn’t show off it’s servants bells and shining brass pans and black iron roasting spit. The servants depicted in art turned out to be much more fascinating than their masters and mistresses in many cases.

Anyway, back to the Soutine exhibition. In the FT review Jackie Wullschlager [the link is unavailable : we only subscribe to the hardcopy Weekend newspaper] quotes Monroe Wheeler the curator of a 1950 US Soutine show at MOMA “What a boon for Soutine that the servant class in France kept so many archaic styles of garment … which enabled him to strike that note of pitiable grandeur that was compulsive to his mind and heart. … humble persons invested with the poise of royalty [and] cloaks in the magnificence of the palette.” 

Photography is not allowed but here are some glimpses of what’s on show in the two special exhibition galleries. A nice size – just enough pictures to enjoy the variety of his work without getting exhausted!

The Little Pastry Cook (1927)

Bellboy (c1925)

Head Waiter (c1927)

And here is the beautiful staircase which takes you up to the top floor of the gallery where the Soutines are showing until 21 January 2018. There is also an excellent permanent collection of paintings including many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. A visit to The Courtauld Gallery is always satisfying.

The third exhibition within the Somerset House precincts, and which I didn’t have time to visit on this occasion, is The North: Fashioning Identity in the East Wing Gallery :

An exhibition exploring contemporary artistic and stylistic representations of the north of England. Featuring contemporary photography, fashion and multimedia work, sitting alongside social documentary film and photography, highlighting how the realities of life in the north of England captured in the mid-20th century continue to influence new generations of photographers, artists and designers.”

It’s showing until 4th February 2018 so I may get there yet.



5 comments on “Soutine’s Portraits : Cooks, Waiters and Bell Boys.

  1. ms6282 says:

    They have a large collection of Soutine paintings ar the Orangerie in Paris.
    Do you really need to visit London to see images of the North? 😉

  2. As are many of mine, of course 😉

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