To stand before Carcass of Beef (1925) is an intense, uncomfortably vivid experience—you can almost smell the meat rotting in the studio. The critic Clement Greenberg once wrote of Soutine’s works, and his meat paintings in particular, that they seemed “more like life itself than like visual art.” Yet Soutine’s brushwork is so energetic and experimental that sheer style—not beef carcasses, bellboys, or any other aspect of “life itself”—could be considered his paintings’ true subject. As Brown told Artsy, “If you are interested in the usage of paint and the sheer tactile potential of pigment and oil—he appeals to that.” At a time when modern art was undergoing momentous change, Soutine had a foot in both the realist and abstract traditions, without ever quite belonging to either one.
This is partly why Soutine has acquired a reputation as the ultimate painter’s painter—a figure who, decades after his death, continues to influence artists working in vastly different styles. Listening to Brown discuss Soutine’s legacy is like listening to an honor role of great creative innovators since WWII.
, with his blood-curdling paintings of beef carcasses hanging in glass cages, was visibly indebted to Soutine—but so were his contemporaries
, who largely abandoned figurative art for “
.” The exploits of the
, who revelled in “blood and guts,” call to mind the legendary image of Soutine splashing blood over his rotting carcasses. So, in very different ways, do the performance art of
and the conceptual pieces of
, who, said Brown, made “dead animals his subject and his medium.”
Soutine did not live long enough to see himself become an influential artist. Instead, his career was stopped cold by the German occupation of Paris in 1940. Decades after he’d fled his Jewish upbringing, the Nazis chased him into hiding, and the fear of capture seems to have worsened his already miserable health. By August of 1943, his ulcer was causing him excruciating pain. Unable to get the medical care he needed, he died at the age of 50, a brilliant painter—and, ultimately, a victim—of flesh.