World premiere of exhibition exploring affinities between the work of artists Chaïm Soutine and Willem de Kooning
March 7–August 8, 2021
In March 2021, the Barnes Foundation will present the world premiere of Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint, an exhibition organized by the Barnes and Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris, exploring the affinities between the work of Lithuanian artist Chaïm Soutine (1893– 1943) and Dutch-American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning (1904–1997). On view in the Barnes’s Roberts Gallery from March 7 through August 8, 2021, this presentation considers how Soutine’s paintings, with their built-up surfaces and energetic brushwork, served the art of de Kooning and helped shape his groundbreaking abstract figurative works in the late 1940s and beyond.
Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint at the Barnes is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal and the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional support comes from the David Berg Foundation, Marsha and Jeffrey Perelman, Dietz & Watson, Robbi and Bruce Toll, Sueyun and Gene Locks, and Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice.
Co-curated by Simonetta Fraquelli, consultant curator for the Barnes Foundation, and Claire Bernardi, chief curator of paintings at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint features 42 paintings and explores key moments in the history of the reception and interpretation of each artist’s work. The exhibition is structured around a series of themes, including the oscillation between the figurative and the abstract; the conflation of figure and landscape; the artists’ mutual fascination with painting flesh; and the similarities in their working practice.
“Rooted in the rich holdings of Soutine’s work found at the Barnes and Musée de l’Orangerie, the genesis of this exhibition arose from the desire to contextualize our collections for modern-day audiences and to promote deeper study of the historical links between artists in Europe and America,” says Fraquelli. “In uniting these paintings by Soutine and de Kooning—two important figures in the history of art who never met one another, and who hailed from very different, individual universes—we witness a remarkable visual dialogue unfolding between the works.”
The expressive force of Soutine’s paintings, coupled with his image as a struggling bohemian artist living in Paris during the interwar years, imparted a particular influence on a new generation of postwar painters in the United States. Soutine was viewed by many as a herald of American abstract expressionism, and his gestural, richly impastoed canvases were presented as an antecedent for contemporary American painting. This
exhibition considers how Soutine’s work had a decisive impact on the development of de Kooning’s art, especially following Soutine’s celebrated posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950, which de Kooning undoubtedly visited. In 1977, de Kooning declared: “I think I would choose Soutine [as my favorite artist] . . . I’ve always been crazy about Soutine—all of his paintings.” De Kooning, more than any other artist of his generation, understood the tension between the opposing poles in Soutine’s work: a search for structure and a passionate connection to art history. De Kooning was the only abstract expressionist who continued to praise Soutine throughout his career and to credit him with being important for the development of his own work.
“Dr. Albert Barnes played a decisive role in Soutine’s career,” says Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes. “In 1922, he discovered one of Soutine’s pastry chef portraits and quickly became enamored with his expressive paintings. He began voraciously collecting Soutine’s work and, in
doing so, played an integral role in establishing the artist’s popularity and helping bring about a spectacular rise in Soutine’s prices, which served to protect the artist from financial hardship for the remainder of his life. Also, it is clear that a significant turning point in de Kooning’s work—evident in his lauded Woman paintings in the 1950s— coincided not only with the MoMA’s retrospective but also with de Kooning’s visit to the Barnes with his wife, Elaine de Kooning, in June 1952. We hope this exhibition will shine a light on the importance of artistic influences over generations, which is something that Dr. Barnes himself had a keen interest in highlighting through the arrangement of his collection.”
Exhibition highlights include key paintings by both artists, including:
– Soutine’s Hill at Céret, c. 1921 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), a well known example of the artist’s Céret landscapes, which were singled out as precursors of de Kooning’s paintings by later critics;
– Examples of Soutine’s portraits of bellboys and pastry chefs, such as The Little Pastry Cook, 1922–23 (Musée de l’Orangerie), which appealed particularly to Dr. Barnes;
– Soutine’s Portrait of Madeleine Castaing, c. 1929 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), an incisive portrait of the artist’s other great patron; – Soutine’s Winding Road, Near Gréolières; Landscape with White Building; and Landscape with House and Tree, c. 1920–21, works from the Barnes collection that are not usually on display;
– Woman paintings by de Kooning from the early 1950s—for which he is perhaps best known and which reveal his admiration of Soutine’s art—such as Woman II, 1952 (Museum of Modern Art) and Woman as Landscape, 1954–55 (private collection); and
– … Whose Name Was Writ in Water, 1975 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), one of de Kooning’s later, more abstract works, painted in the 1970s at a time when he was revisiting the art of Soutine.
Following its premiere at the Barnes Foundation, Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint will be on view at the Musée de l’Orangerie from September 15, 2021, through January 10, 2022.
This exhibition is organized by the Barnes Foundation and the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris. It is co-curated by Simonetta Fraquelli, consultant curator for the Barnes Foundation, and Claire Bernardi, chief curator of paintings at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.