After the success of the show on display in the gallery's Paris location through the summer of 2020, Galerie Karsten Greve
now presents an exhibition focusing on the late work of Swiss artist Louis Soutter (18711942) in Cologne. To complement the presentation of Karsten Greve's remarkable collection, new loans made available by private collectors are being shown in Cologne. Galerie Karsten Greve first presented Louis Soutter's finger paintings in a 1998 Cologne exhibition that was to contribute to the artist's welldeserved renown in Europe and across the world. After more than ten years of preparation, Karsten Greve is particularly pleased to be giving Louis Soutter's finger paintings special weight in the accompanying publication, Louis Soutter. Un Présage, published to mark Louis Soutter's 150th birthday. With texts by Michel Thévoz, the author of the catalogue raisonné on Louis Soutter, French writer Éric Vuillard, and a poem by Hermann Hesse, this book is distinguished by its literary emphasis.
Born the son of a pharmacist in Morges, in the Swiss canton of Vaud, in 1871, Louis Soutter had a promising career path paved for him: after studying engineering in Lausanne, he chose architectural studies, which he abandoned for music. He trained as a violinist with composer and conductor Eugčne Ysa˙e at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, and subsequently resumed his drawing studies. The artist developed an interst in the European avant-garde, especially in a group of Belgian painters known as the Société des Vingt, or Les XX, founded in 1883. Louis Soutter emigrated to the United States where he married Madge Fursman, an American musician, in Colorado Springs, where he was appointed head of the Fine Arts department at Colorado College. Following a bout of typhoid fever, the death of his father and sister, and after his divorce, the artist returned to Switzerland in 1903, physically weak and mentally broken. In 1915, he lost his position as first violinist in the Geneva Symphony Orchestra, and was obliged to serve as a cinema and coffee house violinist. In 1923, Louis Soutter, heavily in debt by the time, was detained in a hospice in Ballaigues, a remote village in the Vaud Jura. It was in the desolate seclusion of this institution that his highly productive creative phase began; it was to last almost twenty years. Despite living the life of a hermit, his work was supported by a small group of friends, amongst them Jean Giono and the Vallotton brothers, who presented his works in their Lausanne gallery, and not least by his cousin, the architect Le Corbusier, who organized exhibitions for him in the United States. As Le Corbusier was at odds with his cousin's finger paintings, he eventually turned away from him. Unnoticed by the public, Louis Soutter died in Ballaigues in 1942.
It was not until 1961 that Louis Soutter was rediscovered thanks to the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, which had acquired a large selection of works and dedicated a first retrospective to the artist. The Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris brought a major part of his drawings back to light. His work has been presented in international exhibitions from the outset, and is held in prestigious private and public collections, including the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum Winterthur, and Kunsthaus Zürich.
Stirring, striking and of an extraordinary intensity, Louis Soutter's finger paintings seem to be illustrations of the poem Hermann Hesse wrote about the painter in 1961: "neither handsome nor reasonable, its precise; I paint with ink and blood, I paint truth. Truth is terrifying." A visionary imagination which brings to mind traumatic experiences and states of fear is evident in the finger paintings focusing on a wide range of Christian and mythological motifs. Employing a special technique, Louis Soutter would "stamp" the figures on paper using his fingertips dipped in black ink, oil or printer's ink. Closely aligned up, the black silhouettes are devoid of any physical substance, neither is their swaying flexibility an expression of vitality; rather, the black shadows gesticulating with oversized hands seem to stagger, to reel as if they were caught in a net or behind a wire. Historical incidents in the ghettos and concentration camps of that era were reflected in Louis Soutter's finger paintings at the same moment that they took place in reality and even before. His art of the later period appears prophetic in character, and without parallel in European art of the nineteen thirties and fourties.