I first visited the Barnes Foundation in December 2015 after living in Philadelphia for about five months. Though slightly hidden from the high traffic of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Foundation expanded before me as I reached Ellsworth Kelly’s sculpture The Barnes Totem. I’d be applying to a position in Visitor Services in the days to come. But first, I was a visitor. And it was there at the Barnes that I met Chaim Soutine’s Woman in Blue.
The woman in the painting is somehow in between worlds: between the concrete body and the abstract, the mind or the soul. Hands painted as flesh or veins. Something dark like a shadow around her. One eye focused. One dilated. She stares out.
She is like me.
I moved to Philadelphia after completing a master’s degree in creative writing at Rosemont College. Since then, I’ve found myself on the in-between as well: in between housing, in between careers and volunteer opportunities, in between artistic mediums—even in between states, as I sometimes consider moving back to my home state of Ohio.
And yet something keeps me here. Something alluring in the possibilities Philadelphia holds. Something about the challenge of this city, wondering if I can make it, keep making it.
And it’s this something that I see in the way the woman in blue warps and blends into her surroundings. Through implications of form through color, aggressive strokes and textures, and the balance of bright rust-colored paint against the depth of darkness, Soutine describes the interior through the exterior, the mind through the body. This effect is furthered by Soutine’s interpretation of his subject as he fills out the lines of her chair and shoulder. Her body is frozen in conflict, simultaneously moving forward from her position, yet bound and attached to it. An unsettling stasis masks a complex internal world.
The Barnes Foundation has reinvigorated my artistic inspiration and helped me find my voice as writer and artist on both interpersonal and intellectual levels. Visitors from across the world and around the corner come to the Barnes every day, and they find works that resonate with them, just as I did. That’s one of the best parts of being part of this team: having those discussions, learning about a guest’s favorite artwork, and why.
Sometime, I feel as though I have countless things to say about Soutine’s piece. Other times, however, all I can do is revisit the collection and stand again in front of Woman in Blue. And I notice something confrontational about her. She is waiting for something to happen, for someone like me to stand before her. We look at each other, and through each other. And, in those moments where time stretches out, I meet my masterpiece.
Explore more of Alan Beyersdorf’s work on his website.
Alan met his masterpiece in Chaim Soutine's Woman in Blue. What’s your story? We love hearing from our visitors. Snap your best self-portrait or building photo (remember, no photography in the galleries), tag it #meetyourmasterpiece, and tell us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Your post may be featured!
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Header: Courtesy of Alan Beyersdorf.
Image 1: Chaim Soutine (Russian, 1893–1943), Woman in Blue (La Femme en bleu), c.1919. Oil on canvas. 39 1/2 x 23 3/4 in. (100.3 x 60.3 cm). BF886, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation.
Image 2: Ensemble view, Room 10, east wall, Philadelphia, 2012. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation.