Flayed Rabbit


ART 201

Corinne Magruder



The Flayed  Rabbit

After seeing Jewish expressionist painter, Chaim Soutine’s the Flayed Rabbit portrait; many people were disgusted by the portrait, due to the graphic details. The portrait was a quite disturbing to the human eye. The title of the piece is self explanatory, the English word Flayed means to strip off the skin or outer covering. The Flayed Rabbit is a painting of a rabbit lying on its back, on a white cloth or sheet. The insides of the rabbit are being exposed. It appears the artist used a heavy thick brush stroke for this piece. The artist uses four basic colors that are very dark such as, orange, red, brown, and black. Colors and brushstroke can tell a lot about a paintings meaning. The dark colors the artist chose to use can predict how he was feeling. The brushstrokes whether appear to be thick and heavy or thin and soft, can determine the emotion of the painter. While observing the painting closer, some critiques notice an image behind the original image. Focusing on the center of the portrait you can see an image of Lucifer. The image is vivid to some, more than it is to others. There are explicit details including his sharp horns and evil eyes.

Soutine had a huge fascination with animals and how there insides appear to look. There are two other paintings that resemble the Flayed Rabbit; Carcass beef and the Flayed Ox. All three of these paintings are almost positioned at the same angle. The paintings don’t seem to be very balanced, to manage a better vision or outlook on what the image actually is, the “head” must turn or tilt to have a understanding of what the paintings actually are. While observing more of these paintings, they appear to be both sexual and evil at the same time. The way the legs are spread apart from each other and the animals lying on their backs gave a sexual vibe. It appears Soutine is very “sick” minded person for coming up with such vulgar ideas. For the Carcass beef and Flayed Ox, Soutine uses the same dark colors as in the Flayed Rabbit. The only differences in these paintings are their backgrounds, shape, and different animals.

Soutine is known for painting dark and gloomy images.  His works have lots of influences on each other. He has done many paintings where animals are flayed. By looking at his work, it seems as if sorrow plays a major part into his life. Soutine was prone to violent rages and bouts of depression and had attempted suicide. He often destroyed his own creations. His bizarre works went with stranger behaviors; once, he kept an animal carcass in his apartment for his painting Carcass of Beef. Despite his rages and eccentricities, he managed to sell many of his works to a well-known American collector by the name of Dr. Alfred Barnes who helped Soutine's work find an appreciative audience in the United States (Weiss).

“Soutine's highly individualistic style uses thick, agitated brushwork, convulsive compositional rhythms, and disturbing psychotic and  psychological content,  which is closely related to the mainstream of early 20th-century Expressionism” (Art/4/2day). Soutine, whom critics describe as a "painter's painter," is characterized by his energetic, lively brushwork and bold use of color that electrify his somewhat traditional choice of subject matter, portraits, landscapes, and still life’s. His work can be classified in three time periods, the 1920s, 1930s, and the 1950s. During this time, Soutine was being defined and redefined by his audience as an unschooled tragic genius, as a savior of traditional French painting, and as a progenitor of Abstract Expressionism and the avant-garde in the US (Art/4/2day)..

Born in 1893 in Smilovichi, Byelorussia, Soutine was born into a poor family where he was the 10th child born of 11. Growing up in a Jewish family it was forbidden that he drew anything. When his family found out about his drawings he was concisely beaten by his brothers. One day Soutine offered to draw a portrait of his neighbor and the sons of the neighbor beat him cruelly. Soutine’s mother finally decided to take action; she had taken them to court and won. The compensation of 25 rubles allowed Soutine to go to Minsk and enter an art college. A year later, Soutine moved to Vilnus which is the capital of Lithuania, to apply to the School of Fine Arts for a 3-year course (Walther).

In 1911, Soutine arrived in Paris and began spending his days in the Louvre, taking in the masterpieces previously unknown to him. He became fascinated by Rembrandt's Carcass of an Ox, an anatomic study in which the titular hunk of meat hangs split open, ribcage exposed. Soutine became obsessed he began to mimic the painting into his own masterpieces. From slaughtered animals, to sleek brown rabbits limply resting on snowy white cloth to a pair of chickens (Kleeblatt).

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age.  Achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardship. Yet his drawings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime. His reputation as an artist remained high and for twenty years he taught nearly every important Dutch painter. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. The self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. In both painting and printmaking he exhibited a complete knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt's knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of the Jewish population of Amsterdam (Gray). Because of his empathy for the human condition, he has been called "one of the great prophets of civilization."

Rembrandt reached his highest artistic level in this work of a hanging carcass of beef.  He painted in great detail the rough and ragged carcass, the revealed rib cage, slabbed and ridged drying meat, and knots of lumpy fat; the knobby elbows, joints and bones of the thin legs which were once strong enough to support this massive body, now trimmed of their hooves, the hide and head, of course, removed as well (Gray). This painting of a slaughtered ox or beef, hanging upside down in a darkened storeroom, can't help but be compared to a crucifixion, with the spreading rear legs like arms attached to a cross.

            The warmth of color, the usage of light and the deep feeling painted into the painting as a whole, speak of several issues. The carcass is both horrible and holy.  Rembrandt gives us the raw fact of death and murder. He does not back away from death and the idea of dying.  In a way, he embraces it here, as if a means of resolving its pain and fear.  He has dealt with death in the loss of his first wife, and at least two of his children.  He seems to find an element of transcendence in death by means of light, as if light's radiance somehow portrays a fearful physical fact with divinity. In the everyday world of food and eating, the death of this beef will provide physical life for those who consume it; as those who "consume" Christ, in belief, gain immortality.


            Although Soutine imitated Rembrandts style and emotions his theory was quite different. Soutine bathed his side of beef in blood, creating chopped, carved forms by anguished strokes of paint in a diagonally sliding composition whose subject is more a tortured victim of 20th Century dictatorship than the epic redemption of Man.  Soutine's painting speaks of both his era's despair at loss of meaning and purpose in living, and his personal desperation.


Generally speaking, the Flayed Rabbit has a lot of history and helpful information that follows behind it. The information that is presented in this research paper gives a better understanding of why and how the painting was painted. Chaim Soutine went through some painful stages in his life and a lot of his pain showed through his work. “Who would have ever thought to paint pictures a lifeless animals?” Even though Soutine wasn’t first to do so, but even wanting to mimic something so crucial, one has to be not in their right stage of mind. But overall the Flayed Rabbit was an interesting piece to look in too.




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            Ox) 1655. 11/8/08 <http://www.jessieevans-dongray.com/essays/essay088.html>

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