Chaïm Soutine, misfit artistic genius in 1930s Paris

Soutine, Chaim, detail

Could anyone have better fitted the 20th-century archetype of an artist than Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943)? He was a temperamental social misfit who painted in a frenzy when inspiration struck him, at the same time creating an important new expressive style. Plus, he suffered years of poverty for his art before being discovered by an American collector. And he was capable of reckless eccentricity – for example, blowing much of a financial windfall on a 400-mile taxi ride from Paris to the south of France.

Soutine, Chaim, La Soubrette -In his figure paintings, Soutine was known for depicting servants – people from the same kind of Paris life as the artist himself – and he continued to choose these models even when his powerful colour compositions had become successful. One of his finest paintings from the height of his career, Waiting Maid (about 1933, Ben Uri Collection), can be seen in the Out of Chaos exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery from October 15th. (The young woman is a maidservant in a home.)

maid photo 2Soutine energised his pictures with colour and texture, and also introduced semi-abstract form. The blue line curving around the front of the young woman’s apron doesn’t seem to have much to do with her body – the fabric appears to form a bowl-like shape, and hangs strangely compared with a real-life maid’s clothing (photo). However, it does give a suggestion of 3D form and space in a fairly abstract way.

A_Woman_Bathing_in_a_Stream_by_RembrandtPerhaps this element of Soutine’s picture owes something to a painting by Rembrandt, Soutine’s artistic hero. Soutine had earlier painted a version of Rembrandt’s Woman Bathing in a Stream (© National Gallery, London), where draped fabric creates curving 3D form and establishes space in front of the woman’s body. More generally, Soutine’s use of glowing hues, abstract smears of paint and textured brushstrokes is, in part, a development of Rembrandt’s late technique – but reinterpreted in bold, 20th-century colour, influenced by artists like Van Gogh.

La Ruche 1During his early career in Paris, Soutine lived and worked in the ramshackle artists’ studios known as La Ruche (‘the Beehive’, photo). Soutine’s artistic circle included Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz and creator of abstract ‘visual poetry’ Sonia Delaunay. They were all Jewish-Russian artists who had left their home country to find artistic freedom in Paris, and are also represented in the Out of Chaos exhibition – Chagall’s Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio, 1945/7 and Sonia Delaunay’s Greeting Card for Galerie Bing, 1964, are pictured below (both are Ben Uri Collection, both © The Artist’s Estate).

chagall, apocalypse









Soutine self-portraitSoutine painted this self-portrait (not in exhibition, Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation) in 1918, five years after he arrived in Paris. He had reached the city after a demanding 1,000-mile journey from Russia, arriving with very little money or knowledge of French. Soutine had to struggle to become an artist. He was the son of a poor clothing mender and was one of 11 children. In his Orthodox Jewish community, artistic representation of people was forbidden, and he was badly beaten after secretly sketching the village rabbi. However, compensation money for this assault later made it possible for him to travel to study art in the city of Vilna (now Vilnius). He subsequently left for France, where he changed his surname from Sutin to the French-sounding Soutine.

Soutine remained almost penniless until 1922 when the American collector Albert Barnes visited his studio and purchased 52 paintings – the occasion that resulted in the extravagant taxi ride. Following this breakthrough, Soutine’s reputation started rising sharply. “Everyone is running after Soutine,” said an envious fellow painter. However, in 1940, the Second World War invasion of France by the German army put the lives of Soutine and all people of Jewish heritage in the country at risk. Soutine fled from Paris and went into hiding, sometimes having to sleep out in the forest. Not surprisingly, his stomach ulcer worsened and began bleeding badly. He made a risky journey to Paris for an operation, but it failed to save his life.

Auerbach Mornington CrescentAs well as his impact on French art, Soutine’s expressive style influenced later artists in London, including Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, both represented in the Out of Chaos exhibition. The picture on the left is Auerbach’s painting Mornington Crescent, Summer Morning, 2011 (Ben Uri Collection © Frank Auerbach courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art).



John G. Watson and many, many coins. A Guest Post by Daniel Wood.

My name is Daniel Wood, I am currently studying an undergraduate History and Archaeology degree at Newcastle University. During the summer holidays I undertook an Archaeology-related fieldwork placement at the Great North Museum: Hancock in partnership with the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN).

John G. Watson, a local numismatist donated a large collection of Chinese, Japanese and Korean coins to the NHSN in 1921. I was originally given the index cards that were associated with the collection to transcribe. Luckily, the actual coin collection was soon found within the Natural History Resource Centre, located in the Discovery Museum. The task of matching up the written and archaeological sources could now begin! The coins encompassed a wide time period of Chinese history, beginning with the Zhou Dynasty in 1046 BC and ending in the Qing Dynasty in AD 1911. You can see below just one of the many types of coinage from the collection that Watson donated and beneath, the written record associated with it.

Coin 1

One of the earliest examples of Chinese coinage from 670-221 BC.

Coin 2

The written record associated with the above artefact.

The most difficult task was not the matching of records, or the translation of symbols on the coins however; it was finding information about the donor, John G. Watson that could be added to the archival record. From what little information we could garner, it is clear that Watson lived in Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne during the 1920s, and had a keen interest in Chinese numismatics as he wrote a variety of books on the subject during the decade, the most prevalent book being Common Chinese Coins, published in 1924. The cover can be seen below.

Coin 3

Cover of Common Chinese Coins by John G. Watson.

Despite this, the information can be added to the Society’s archives for future reference. Beyond this I was also given the task of photographing, translating and recording another collection of Chinese coins and a Chinese coin sword, an artefact used to ensure a happy marriage or ward away evil spirits. Though having no knowledge of the Chinese language at the beginning of this project, it was not as difficult as you might imagine! Luckily, the coins were from a much narrower period of time – dating from the Qing dynasty which ruled from 1644 to 1911. Below you can see the coin collection and sword.

Coin 4

Collection of various Chinese coins.

Coin 5

A Chinese coin sword.

The final task was to record late twentieth-century and early twenty first-century coinage from around the world, including former East and West Germany, Greece, Israel, the US and Singapore just to name a few. It was very interesting to see how currency has evolved from the ‘knife money’ shown above, to modern day dollars and euros. All these artefacts have now been added to the Museum’s database and archival store.

Despite having no knowledge of the subject area at the beginning of this placement, I have not only thoroughly enjoyed my time working at the Museum but have also learnt a great deal about this period of Chinese history and currency through the ages.

With many thanks to June Holmes of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and Andrew Parkin and Ian Bower at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

David Bomberg, Picasso, and the Whitechapel Boys

Bomberg Ghetto TheatreDavid Bomberg’s Ghetto Theatre (1920, © Ben Uri Collection) is one of the stand-out pictures in the Out of Chaos exhibition, which opens at the Laing Art Gallery on October 15th. The exhibition, which ranges over more than 100 years of art, has a strong showing by Bomberg and the Whitechapel Boys, including painters Mark Gertler, Jacob Kramer, Bernard Meninsky, Isaac Rosenberg and Clare Winsten, as well as sculptor Jacob Epstein. Never formally a group, these artists were linked together by artistic vision, friendship, and a shared sense of identity generated by their Jewish migrant backgrounds. Their work contributed a great deal to the development of modernist art in Britain in the early 20th century.

Pavilion Theatre WhitechapelBomberg would have attended performances at the theatre in Whitechapel, in the East End of London. Although its formal name was the Pavilion Theatre (photos of the theatre can be seen here and here), its local audience referred to it as the Ghetto Theatre (ghetto just meaning Jewish area, without any sinister overtones). The Yiddish performances at the theatre played an important part in the cultural life of the community. By choosing the title he did, Bomberg was making it clear that he was portraying an aspect of contemporary Jewish life.

Desperately poor for much of his life, Bomberg would have sat in the cheap upper seats at the theatre, and he’s painted the audience there in vibrant reds. Their mask-like faces carry overtones of Cubist pictures such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’AvignonIn contrast to the balcony figures, Bomberg used drab browns and greys for the top-hatted audience in the stalls – possibly reflecting his disappointment with the well-off people who consistently failed to buy his pictures. The red/grey colour division is the main way Bomberg has indicated space in his picture. Instead of concentrating on describing progression back into the composition, he’s arranged the balcony edge to project aggressively towards the viewer. Bomberg’s rough handling of the paint also adds to the forcefulness of the painting style.

In Ghetto Theatre, Bomberg kicked aside the traditional rules on how to paint a good picture. His confrontational approach to the art world extended back to 1913, when he was expelled from the Slade School of Art in London for his insistence on following ‘the Picasso madness’, as it was described in the British press. That year, Bomberg produced his large and elaborate drawing Racehorses (1913, Ben Uri Collection © The artist’s family), also on show in the Out of Chaos exhibition.

bomberg racehorses

In Bomberg’s Racehorses, the robot-like horses and their multiple stick legs – intended to represent movement – are indebted to the energetic and aggressive art style of Futurism, itself derived from Cubism. The style of Racehorses was so new, so incomprehensible to many that Whitechapel writer John Rodker had to warn his readers that it was ‘not intended to be comic’. Rodker explained that the picture showed racehorses, with jockeys, trotting around a paddock before the race. The small blocky figures at the front of the picture are spectators (on the left) and a couple of bookies (on the right). At the top, Bomberg has shown horses racing by on the other side of the rails, their forms reduced to slanting rod-like shapes. Bomberg had been introduced to Cubist art by the Post-Impressionist exhibition of 1910–11 in London organised by Roger Fry. His appreciation of Cubism was enhanced by his visit to Paris in 1913, when he met Picasso.

Whitechapel Art Gallery & Library - bThe following year, in 1914, Bomberg and Jacob Epstein created a showcase for themselves and fellow members of the Whitechapel Boys by selecting a ‘Jewish Section’ of European and British art for the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s major exhibition Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements. Bomberg’s Racehorses was one of the exhibits. (The photo shows Whitechapel Art Gallery, with the next-door library where the artists and writers associated with the Whitechapel Boys would sometimes meet.)

Slade school of art aDespite Bomberg’s expulsion, the Slade School of Art (photo) was a central connecting point for the Whitechapel Boys’ artists, who studied there at overlapping periods (often struggling financially to be able to attend). They were open to ideas from European movements, and the modernity of their art can be seen in the varied pictures and sculpture on display in the Out of Chaos exhibition – including the pictures by Mark Gertler, Clare Winsten, and Jacob Kramer illustrated below. For more details about the Out of Chaos exhibition, see the Laing exhibition page.

Gertler Rabbi and Rabbitzin

Winsten, Claire, Portrait of Joseph Leftwich 5








left: Mark Gertler), Rabbi and Rabbitzin, 1914; right: Clare Winsten, Portrait of Joseph Leftwich, about 1920; Below: Jacob Kramer, Day of Atonement, 1919 © Estate of John David Roberts; all, Ben Uri Collection







George W. Temperley and the bombardment of Scarborough in 1914 – A Guest Post by Ashleigh Jackson

George Temperley. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

George W. Temperley. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

My name is Ashleigh Jackson. I am a History undergraduate student from Edinburgh and I’m currently on a summer placement with the Natural History Society of Northumbria in their archives at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

“This morning Scarborough was touched for the first time by the Great War” – Marguerite Temperley, 16 December 1914

George W. Temperley was a member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria from 1906 until his death in 1967. Temperley was a talented naturalist, with particular interests in ornithology and botany. From 1913, Temperley lived in Scarborough, where he worked as Secretary to the Council of Social Welfare, witnessing the bombardment which occurred in 1914, killing 17 residents of the town.

© Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11361

© Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11361

The diaries of Temperley’s wife, Marguerite, offer a striking insight into the effects of the First World War on the Homefront. Her diary entry from 16 December 1914 records the fatal raid on Scarborough. The German Navy targeted the northern coast, including Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in the early hours of 16 December  1914. The ships opened fire with giant naval guns, desolating these quiet, coastal towns. During the bombardment 137 people were killed, while hundreds more were left injured and homeless as a result of the damage waged by the German fleet. Notably, Scarborough was vulnerable as it did not possess any gun defences and the harbour was not suitable for warships. However, German intelligence led them to believe that Scarborough, like Hartlepool, was defended by gun batteries which rendered it a legitimate military target under the rules set out by the Hague Convention of 1907.

Although the attack on the northern coast was not militarily significant, it did lead to significant loss and distress for the civilian population. An important impact of this event was the rise of young men enlisting, in an effort to avenge the devastation inflicted on their home towns.

A further impact of the raid was a loss of confidence in the Royal Navy, after many blamed its failure to intercept German intelligence and the inadequacy of coastal defence, leaving Scarborough and the other towns involved defenceless.  In the immediate aftermath of the raid, there was an outpouring of public anger towards Germany, who they believed had broken the rules of war, for targeting undefended areas.

Tempereley was at home on the morning of the raid, preparing breakfast with his family when the bombardment began at around 8 o’clock. The Temperley family initially mistook the sound as thunder, but as the raid continued they soon realised it was something more sinister. The family, like many others across Scarborough were taken by surprise, and took shelter in their cellar. In her diary, Marguerite writes that her husband danced a highland fling in an effort to keep warm, a rather comic image in the midst of utter destruction.

Image courtesy of Historic England

Image courtesy of Historic England

Marguerite goes onto to describe the extent of the attack, with houses torn in half and roofs blown off while the already ruined castle suffered further damage. The image to the left shows Scarborough Castle, photographed soon after the attack. This section of the castle was hit by two shells during the raid, the scars of which are still visible today. The Temperley’s lived at 23 Esplanade Gardens, which survived the raid unscathed but this was located close to Royal Terrace where Marguerite notes a house had its roof blown open.

“As the bangs continued in quick succession we realised it was the sound of guns” – Marguerite Temperley, December 16th 1914

Notably, the Temperleys were both pacifists, however it remains unknown as to whether George was a conscientious objector. Local historian Joan Proudlock believes that George may have been a conscientious objector based on the research she has carried out, however, she emphasises that this is unclear. Furthermore, the nature of Temperley’s work in Scarborough remains ambiguous. Proudlock further suggests that Temperley’s work at the Council of Social Welfare was perhaps an alternative form of service during the war, rather than active service in the army.

During his time in Scarborough, Temperley began developing his skills as a lecturer, holding talks on natural history, ornithology and botany to local groups including the newly formed Women’s Institute. Soon after the end of the war, in 1919, the Temperley family moved back to Newcastle.

Image courtesy of Joan H Proudlock

Image courtesy of Joan H. Proudlock

In 1913, the Temperleys witnessed the first biplanes taking off from Scarborough. The image to the right shows a postcard sent by George W Temperley to his uncle, Harry Charlton. He writes “this is the water plane that came to Scarbro! It is being oiled and overhauled ready for the next flight. You know it flew past Sunderland, then over Scotland and fell into the sea near Ireland and was smashed”.

Upon his return to Newcastle, Temperley became an increasingly active member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria. He made extensive trips around the region, a commendable act for a man without a car. In 1927, he contributed to a series of ‘Young People’s Lectures’ giving a talk on 4 January entitled ‘Tales of the Birds’. It was not until he retired from social welfare in 1928 that his love of natural history was able to flourish. In 1930 he became the Honorary Secretary to the Society, and later, honorary curator to the Hancock Museum. From 1935, he began compiling an annual ornithological report for Newcastle and Durham, a task which was later inherited by Fred Grey after Temperley’s death in 1967.

Natural History Society of Northumbria ornithological field trip to Teeside, Temperley right. Image courtesy of the 'Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

Natural History Society of Northumbria ornithological field trip to Teeside, Temperley right. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

The Natual History Society of Northumbria holds numerous archives relating to Temperley. The archives include Temperley’s diaries, natural history records and photographs, he remained a key member of the Society until his death, allowing both the Hancock Museum and the Society to grow even after the devastation of the First World War. Temperley acquired a reputation within ornithological circles, becoming well acquainted with Viscount Grey, George Bolam and Abel Chapman. In 1951, he published A History of British Birds of County Durham, the crowning achievement to his work as a naturalist.

23 March 1951 - Temperley can be seen to the far left ‘watching a flock of 250 Barnacle Geese and some Pink-footed Geese on the Solway Marshes' Image courtesy of the 'Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

23 March 1951 – Temperley can be seen to the far left ‘watching a flock of 250 Barnacle Geese and some Pink-footed Geese on the Solway Marshes’
Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

[Quotations from Marguerite Temperley’s diary, taken from an unpublished biography by Joan H. Proudlock, ‘George W. Temperley, Botanist and Ornithologist 1875-1967′ (2016) held in the Natural History Society’s archive.]

Rhythms of the Cosmos – A Guest Post by Dr Andrew Fletcher

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a small but perfectly formed planetarium on the first floor. The computer-controlled system allows us to fly through the Universe, in space and in time, choosing the best viewpoint from which to investigate all kinds of wonderful phenomena. In this guest post, Dr Andrew Fletcher, one of our 2016 Great North Museum Fellows, describes a new planetarium show he is developing that should appeal to anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Everyone can see that the Sun moves across the sky and that the Moon is sometimes visible during the day and sometimes at night. Pay a bit more attention to the Moon’s position and you will notice that from one night to the next, if you look at exactly the same time, it moves with respect to the stars.  And over the course of about one month, you will observe a bright full moon slowly transition to a thin sliver of a new moon and back again.

It is also possible to track planets with just your eyes. Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can all be easily seen and if you pay extremely close attention and measure their positions over many years, you would find that they too move across the night sky, all at different speeds. And sometimes they seem to double back on themselves!

The Earth, Sun, planets, stars and galaxies are all involved in an intricate pattern of motion.

The Earth, Sun, planets, stars and galaxies are all involved in an intricate pattern of motion.

From the earliest times in human civilisation, thousands of years ago, people looked carefully at the night sky and tracked these different movements. Some of the cleverest scholars who ever lived tried their hardest to make sense of what was going on, inventing new methods of measurement and new branches of mathematics that we still use today.

The apparent orbital paths of the Sun, Venus and Mercury around the Earth, according to the system of Ptolemy (2nd Century AD), in an illustration from the 1st Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1771.

The apparent orbital paths of the Sun, Venus and Mercury around the Earth, according to the system of Ptolemy (2nd Century AD), in an illustration from the 1st Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1771.

In the end, it turned out that having the right viewpoint is the key to making sense of all of this movement in the night sky. With the correct perspective everything falls neatly into place. That’s where having a modern, sophisticated planetarium comes into its own. Seeing with your own eyes how the Earth orbits the Sun and why this causes the seasons, or how the changing positions of the Earth, Moon and Sun produce the phases of the Moon and the cycle of tides, gives a dynamic picture that books and diagrams can’t compete with.

The position of Mars changes between January (right) and September (left) 2016, with respect to the background constellations. The occasional retrograde (or doubling-back) motion of the planets confused astronomers for millennia. (Image credit: NASA)

The position of Mars changes between January (right) and September (left) 2016, with respect to the background constellations. The occasional retrograde (or doubling-back) motion of the planets confused astronomers for millennia. (Image credit: NASA)

Astronomers now know that everything in the Universe is moving and our understanding of planets, stars, galaxies (my field of research) and the entire Universe itself all have to take into account this motion.

I have been spending my summer mornings, before the museum opens to the public, programming a new planetarium show called ‘Rhythms of the Cosmos’ that will be premiered on Wednesday 31 August, during the museum’s Space Week. There will be shows, which will last about 20 minutes, at 10.30am, 11.30am and 12.30pm and I will be available between shows to try to answer any astronomy questions.

Dr Andrew Fletcher is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Newcastle University. His research interests are in radio astronomy, galaxies and the interstellar medium.