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Soutine started painting vases of flowers as soon as he arrived at La Ruche and at the Cité Falguière in Paris, before 1917. Although initially these were part of more complex still lifes, the other objects and decorative elements gradually disappeared, leaving the flowers as the only subject of the painting. This is true of Gladioli in the Musée de l’Orangerie. The vase, here, has been moved down to the bottom right of the painting, whereas the stems spread out, occupying three quarters of the space. The dark, indeterminate brown background offers a striking contrast with the red of the flowers. The broad, lively brushstrokes, sketching out the forms only, contribute to the intense dynamism of the composition. Gladioli were the subject of Chaïm Soutine’s first series on a specific theme. Today we know of around fifteen Soutine paintings on this theme. His first paintings in the gladioli series were rendered in muted tones. Then, following his first visits to the south of France, he changed his technique using much more vivid tones to conjure up the way the flowers seem to spurt upwards, as in the painting in the Orangerie. This was remounted on canvas after 1926, and before it was acquired by Paul Guillaume in 1929. At this point, in a procedure rare enough to deserve mention, the painting was slightly enlarged along the bottom by the artist, and signed by him. Owners were usually reluctant to undertake this kind of step with Soutine, who, alas quite often, destroyed his own works without any qualms.

Provenance: L. Zborowski, Paris; H. Bing, Paris; Paul Guillaume en 1929; Domenica Walter