In honour of the Menil Collection's William N Copley survey, ArtNews' archive series re-publishes "Serge Charchoune: A Gentle Paris Painter of Another Age" by William N. Copley from ArtNews March 1960.
A gentle Paris painter of another age continues to work quietly and modestly in times when violence and aggression are the norm.
Cité Falguière, just off the Montparnasse end of Boulevard Pasteur, is a tiny impasse with a tradition for obscurity. It was the home of Modigliani and Soutine, and it is there, living almost as their ghost, that the painter Serge Charchoune is living today.
I am not one to romanticize starvation and obscurity for artists. Such notions are for bad novels. Yet there is something so poetically proper about Charchoune’s presence in the impasse that it is often commented upon. His obscurity is an obscurity almost of choice, not that he enjoys discomfort or being so often passed-over, in spite of his recognition by many intellectuals, but because his modesty, and, above all, the lack of aggressiveness in his painting, marry so perfectly with the old place.
It is a temptation for critics of his work to pass him off as a painter’s painter. Certainly, painters do own a great many of his paintings and painters have been responsible for keeping his spirits up, but this is too easy a generalization. Rather his lack of recognition seems stemmed from his determined, almost stubborn, refusal to paint aggressively in a period when aggressiveness in painting is so much in style. He will tell you he admires the violence of today’s young painters, “But . . . I am a more complicated savage.” He also admires the individuality of the Surrealists, perhaps his strongest defenders, but has steadfastly refused identification with the group, insisting that métier is more important than subject matter. Yet, is he really this far removed from Surrealist attitudes?