|Maurice Utrillo, Place de l'église à Montmagny, c. 1907|
With very little choice of exhibitions in Paris this summer, I made the conservative choice to go to the Pinacothèque for Modigliani, Soutine et L’Aventure de Montparnasse. The exhibition showcases the collection of Jonas Netter, an Alsace businessman who amassed paintings by a handful of chosen artists in the teens and twenties. Unlike other exhibitions of this nature, while the accompanying text is interested in the collector and his motivations, the works on display are given ample attention by the Pinacothèque.
That said, while the collection comprises some really exquisite paintings by Utrillo, Modigliani, Soutine many of the other works were second rate at best. As a collection, other than the contemporaneity of the works purchased by Netter, the one cohering principle appeared to be his taste and fascination for color. I was reminded of the brilliant colors of Franz Marc, August Macke and the other innovators of German abstraction that were working contemporaneously. But the similarities to the work of the Germans did not, unfortunately, extend further than the palette. Most notably, even though the paintings collected by Netter were all painted in the years of WWI there is no indication, anywhere, in any of them, that there is a war going on outside of the frame. So other than the canvases by Utrillo, Modigliani and Soutine, there was very little of pressing import.
|Maurice Utrillo, Porte Ste Martin, c. 1908|
I didn’t know Maurice Utrillo’s paintings before, and so was pleasantly surprised to find their interesting incorporation of the influences of what would have been the relatively recent invention of photography. In street after street after street, Utrillo invites us down the street lined with houses. This view down a road lined with houses, with only ever one or two anonymous figures of little consequence, in an urban environment was clearly Utrillo’s preoccupation. And the perspective is always that seen through a slightly anamorphic photographic lens. It was as though he was searching for the reproduction of the photographic vision.
|Maurice Utrillo, rue Muller à Montmartre, c. 1908|
Also, of interest for Utrillo was the sky. His skies are always grey, but they span the gamut of grey’s possibility: from blue, to red, to purple to green greys. And in each case, even though the skies are grey, they reflect an extraordinarily luminosity. Utrillo is a painter who has a consciousness of the rapidly developing modernist aesthetic, while all the time, adhering to the principles of pictorialism. His canvases are vibrant and filled with a warmth and energy, and yet, they are not the kind to be reproduced ad infinitum and placed above the mantelpiece.
|Amedeo Modigliani, Fillette en bleu, 1918|
|Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de la jeune fille Rousse, 1918|
|Chaim Soutine, L'Homme au Chapeau, 1919-20|
And lastly, the Soutines. Again, like the Modigliani’s, Chaïm Soutine’s canvases have a clarity of vision and a master of the medium that is nowhere to be found in many of the other works in the exhibition. His portraits are a revelation as these figures emerge out of the paint, and simultaneously, appear to be in the process of receding into its depths. In the thick, luscious paint that is as much the subject tof Soutine’s paintings as is the sitter, color, paint and its ability to be pushed around the canvas do battle with representation in the form of the figure. As a consequence, the L’homme au chapeau, La Folle and even Soutine himself in his Autoportrait appear troubled, melancholic and uncertain because of his struggle to be realized in paint.
|Chaïm Soutine, La Folle, 1919|