Soutine’s Portraits

Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) produced some of the most powerful and expressive portraits of modern times. Accompanying a major London exhibition that focuses on one of Soutine's most important series of portraits - of cooks, waiters and bellboys - this is the first time that this outstanding group of masterpieces has ever been brought together.
Date Published :
February 2018
Publisher :
Paul Holberton Publishing
Editor :
Karen Serres, Barnaby Wright
Illustration :
highly illustrated
No associated books available.


Accompanying a major exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery that focuses upon one of Chaim Soutine’s most important series of portraits – of cooks, waiters and bellboys – this is the first time that this outstanding group of masterpieces has ever been brought together.
Chaim Soutine (1893–1943) produced some of the most powerful and expressive portraits of modern times. His ability to capture in paint the character, humanity and emotion of his sitters is the hallmark of Soutine’s greatest work. The major exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, London, focuses upon one of his most important series of portraits; his paintings of cooks, waiters and bellboys who sat for him in Paris and the South of France during the 1920s. These works helped to establish Soutine’s reputation as a major avant-garde painter, seen by many as the twentieth century heir to van Gogh. This will be the first time that this outstanding group of masterpieces has ever been brought together and it will be the first exhibition of Soutine’s work in London for over thirty years.

Soutine arrived in Paris as an émigré from Russia in 1913 and began a precarious existence as a penniless artist in Montparnasse living among fellow painters, such as Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani. As part of this avant-garde coterie of artists, Soutine developed a highly original style that combined an expressive handling of paint with deep reverence for the Old Masters that he studied in the Louvre. His portraits often appear both timeless and vividly modern. These qualities are exemplified by the series of paintings of cooks, waiters and bellhops that he produced during the 1920s. These lowly and often-overlooked figures from Paris’s fashionable hotels and restaurants, including the famous Maxim’s, appealed to Soutine’s sense that profound emotion and a deep sense of humanity could be found in such humble sitters. The contrast between their working uniforms and the individuality of their faces adds to the emotional charge of these extraordinary portraits. Soutine strived to achieve the most powerful effects of color from the bold whites, reds and blues of their different uniforms. When he started the series, Soutine was living in near-poverty as a struggling artist. These portraits helped to lift him out of these desperate circumstances as they were soon admired by friends and become prized by collectors. Today, they are considered among his greatest achievements.

This publication will bring together the most comprehensive group of these portraits. It will be a unique opportunity to experience the power and profound emotion of Soutine’s art.

About The Author

Curator of Paintings before 1900, The Courtauld Gallery

Barnaby Wright is The Courtauld’s Daniel Katz Curator of 20th Century Art.


"Outstanding group of portraits … these portraits played a key role in establishing Soutine's reputation … and today are considered among his greatest achievements."

- The Oldie

"These figures take centre-stage in the dark theatre of Soutine's art, with its urgent and expressive distortions. He sees the profundity in the humblest of sitters."

- RA Magazine, Autumn 2017

"A strikingly modern series of portraits, 21 of which … [that] established his reputation … the artist’s broad, Expressionist brushstrokes capture the individuality of each anonymous sitter, through posture, the suggested wrinkle of a frown, the downturn of a waiting maid’s eyes."

- Art Quarterly, Autumn 2017

"This fascinating exhibition brings together for the first time Soutine’s portraits of the pâtissiers, chefs, butchers, waiters, grooms, valets, bellhops and chambermaids of France’s grand hotels and restaurants in the boom years between the wars."

- The Spectator

"Powerful images of a new social class of service personnel … considered among his greatest achievements."

- Apollo

"Touching collection of portraits"

- Town and Country

"Tremendous ... the show is its own knockout experience requiring no explanations if you are at all intrigued by painters painting. But the catalogue adds a layer of fascination."

- Evening Standard

"Crushed into uniforms, forced to play one part or another on the social stage, the vulnerable, meaty essence of humanity keeps spilling out. Painting between two European wars that reduced people first to cattle then to ash, Soutine celebrates the rawness of our shared predicament."

- The Guardian

"Welcome to the hotel of your nightmares. … at their brilliant best, the figures he creates are all compressed and shrunken, moments from bursting out in anger. You might be a guest here, but you can’t help feeling a little unwelcome."

- Time Out

"A savagely attentive painter."

- The Independent

"Marvellous … of art-historical importance, but even more it demonstrates a triumph of imagination and human empathy, from a period of social extremes not so unlike our own."

- Financial Times

"Chaïm Soutine’s worker portraits are superb … a little gem of a show."

- The Times

★★★★ "A superb, unsettling show"

- The Arts Desk

"Marvellous … there’s a lot of pathos in this show. A lot of projection. But what it is most full of is blasts of pictorial courage that make the efforts of other painters of the epoch feel tepid."

- The Sunday Times

"A rare and remarkable series of studies that reflect the tensions between the anonymity and the individuality of the serving class."

- The Telegraph

"Excellent essays"

- London Review of Books

"Given his lowly background, it’s no surprise that when Soutine turned his hand to portraiture, he took Paris’s humble service staff as his subjects … these portraits are very much alive."

- New York Review of Books

"Excellent survey"

- The Wall Street Journal

"Featuring color art on every page ... [Soutine's Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys] sets the portraits within the context of Soutine’s artistic life and development and the particular culture of French art during the years after WWI."

- ProtoView, May 2018

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