While others are careering round the Somerset House ice rink, you’ll find us in the north wing, checking out the cooks, waiters and bellboys at The Courtauld Gallery. The painted cooks, waiters and bellboys, that is, created by 20th-century Russian émigré Chaïm Soutine. This is the first time “the heir to Van Gogh”, as the gallery refers to him, has been exhibited in the UK in 35 years.
A young pastry chef in a loose-fitting white jacket and matching floppy white hat, with childlike hands, a suspicious raised eyebrow, big eyes and even bigger ears. A scrawny bellboy with sparrow-like arms and a pointed chin, nonetheless sitting like the most macho of men in flamboyant red, hands of hips, legs spread and head tilted as if to say: “What are you looking at?”
Soutine was fascinated by the overlooked figures toiling away in France’s most fancy establishments. He painted restaurant and hotel staff in their brightly coloured uniforms, with expressionist-like strokes and often in poses associated with the rich and famous. Here at The Courtauld Gallery, these fleshy figures – full of emotion – are exhibited front and centre for all to see.
The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN