He shared a roof and bread with Marc Chagall and Chaïm Soutine. And foreseeing the brevity of his journey, he painted tirelessly. On them, carefully preserved in Parisian museums, are the same harlequins, poets and wanderers as Abraham Mintchine himself.

Sometimes, while working on a portrait by Robert Falk, he would have a premonition of the tragic fate of the hero of his canvas. He might even refuse to continue painting. But it was in 1931 that he painted the portrait of Abraham Mintchine. Mintchine is depicted in thoughtful confusion against a background of thick white emptiness. Falk said at the time that the work was unfinished. And Mintchine died that same year, at the age of 33. It is worth saying that he lived the approach of his own death, working day and night. In painting he was insatiable, just as his fans became inconsolable after his death. Dozens of exhibitions throughout the twentieth century – Paris, London, New York, Milan, Rome and everywhere else.

An artist without a biography. He was born in Kiev in 1898. There is little information about his family, it is known that he had a brother who also became an artist and died in Auschwitz. At the age of 13 Abraham Mintchine went to apprentice to a jeweller. The master liked the sketches of the apprentice, and after three years he advised him to continue studying painting at an art school. In 1914 Abraham entered the Kiev Art School – however, researchers of his work have not managed to find his name among the graduates. Nor any other details of his life until the early 1920s.

In 1923, already married, Mintchine left with his wife for Berlin. There he sketched scenery for a Jewish theatre, began to paint pictures – and fell ill with tuberculosis. Three years later he moved to Paris. He settled in a shabby workshop, in an old two-storey building on the Rue de la Glacière – then it was the outskirts of the city. He made a living as best he could: to earn money he coloured cheap fabrics for handkerchiefs and plates.

At the very beginning of the last century, the Paris School of Painting was still in its infancy, and its members were the inhabitants of Montparnasse. Among the first names were Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Jules Paskin, Marc Chagall and Sutin. Unknown to anyone at the time, beginners, unrecognised. Abraham Mintchine joined them, moving from Glacier to the Rotunda building, or, as it was called, the Beehive – La Ruche.

The wine pavilion for the World Exhibition, built by Eiffel’s designs, was bought by the successful architect and painter Alfred Boucher and moved to the acquired land in Montparnasse. At the opening of one of the first art co-working spaces in the world, an orchestra played the Marseillaise. Friend and patron of young unrecognised painters, he rented them rooms for workshops for nothing. Soon the house of ‘Papa Boucher’ became the centre of international bohemia: artists arriving in Paris only settled there with great willingness.

The neighbourhood was sprawling with wastelands, a cowshed stood nearby, from where a mooing sound could be heard, especially penetrating on the day of slaughter, and factory chimneys smoked. About the ‘Hive’ wrote Chagall: ‘From the studio of a Russian artist heard, sometimes, sobbing disordered sitter, the Italians sang songs and played the guitar, the Jews endlessly argued, and I sat alone in my studio in the light of a paraffin lamp. It was full of paintings, canvases, that is, not canvases, but my sheets, towels and shirts torn to pieces.

Mintchine did not keep a diary, but it is easy to assume that he worked under similar conditions. Chagall, Sutin and he kept away from the bohemian crowd. Writing, interrupted only by sleep and food, was more important to them. After two landscapes a day at night Minchin could take up watercolours and work until morning under electric light. In a year he would produce several hundred works.

His canvases were first exhibited in 1929 at the Alice Manto Gallery, about which no information at all has survived – only scant mention in art catalogues. Maurice Blond, a native of Lodz, and Victor Bart, born in Stavropol province, exhibited with him at the time. The exhibition was successful, Manto signed a contract with Mintchine and took his paintings on commission. He was well received at several more group exhibitions, and in the late 1920s he was offered to exhibit alone – in the galleries of Manto and Leopold Zborowski. The latter was a French patron of the arts with Jewish-Polish roots, recognised by his contemporaries in a very controversial way: a dealer in paintings, a collector, a poet, and a disinterested man at the end of his life. In general, he is a mirror of his subjects.

In 1928, Abraham Mintchine’s paintings, along with works by other artists, were seen in Moscow. In the same year, Mintchine met the art dealer René Gimpel, who became the main buyer of his works. In total, Gimpel bought from Mintchine more than 80 paintings – thanks to this the artist finally found material independence and decided to move from Paris to a small town Le Garde in the suburbs of Toulon. He hoped that the Mediterranean climate, the sea and the mountains would improve his health.

Every morning Mintchine went out with a sketchbook in the fields – to write French pastoral. On 25 April 1931, he painted a colourful hill near the village of Saint Margaret. At work, he became ill, the good thing nearby were peasants who took the patient to the nearest fisherman’s cafe. But the doctor did not arrive in time.

René Gimpel terribly grieved about the loss, called Mintchine ‘untimely lost genius. French critic Gilles Aronson in the last landscape of the artist ‘Hill with red flowers’ saw red everything: flowers, and the sky, ‘and absolutely straight, as if praying cypresses’. And in general, the heroes of Abraham Mintchine’s paintings were very much like himself: homeless vagabonds, harlequins, poets, seekers. They froze inconsolably in the light of the sun or candles.

Masterpieces of this author increasingly attract the attention of collectors from around the world and the cost of his paintings with enviable regularity set new records at auction.
Today, a significant collection of works by the artist is collected in the Malabart Gallery.


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