1871 . morges . switzerland
1942 . ballaigues . france

Engineer, architect, painter and musician, Louis Soutter had a great as well as stormy beginning of his professional career : engineering studies in Lausanne, studies of architecture in Geneva, violin in Brussels, then painting in Lausanne and in Paris, marriage with Madge Fursman, a young American whom he met in Brussels, moving to the United States, where he lived from giving drawing and violin lessons before he became the director of the Department of Fine Arts at Colorado College. Even if his professional and social life seemed to be a success, Louis Soutter became ill and depressed. In 1902, he returned back to Switzerland to take up the career of a violinist in the Orchestra of the Geneva Theatre and the Symphonic Orchestra of Lausanne. In 1922, he was institutionalized in the hospital of Eclagnens (Vaud) and later in the retirement home (asile de Jura) in Ballaigues (Vaud) where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1927, his cousin Le Corbusier became interested in his drawings and started to support him. Even if the majority of his drawings are neither dated nor signed, it is possible to distinguish several phases in his artistic production. First, the time between 1923-1930, a period of pen and Indian ink or pencil drawings, which represent not only exotic or picturesque scenes but also events from the retirement home. From 1930 to 1935, a manneristic period, during which Soutter produced Indian ink drawings with tortured, entangled figures. Finally, between 1937-1942, the period of large plates in Indian ink, most of them "finger plates", picturing a multitude of figures of extreme intensity, often representing the effigy of crucified Jesus. "Even if Soutter did not escape all influence, writes Michel Thévoz, his relationship to tradition and artistic context is undeniably much looser than that of any other socially integrated artist. It is not based on global assimilation but only on limited borrowings. [...] Similarly to a dream, lapsus or a word play, the signifiers stolen from the diurnal or rational world are pulled in the unconscious and subjected to a treatment that radically changes their meaning."


Thévoz, Michel. Louis Soutter ou l’écriture du désir. Lausanne : Editions L’Age d’homme, Zurich : Institut suisse pour l’étude de l’art, 1974.