Chaïm Soutine was born to a poor Jewish family in the shtetl of Smilovitz, Russia (now Lithuania) in 1893. He studied at the School of Fine Arts, Vilna (1910-13), and in the Atelier Cormon at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1913–15), becoming closely associated with the group of foreign-born, predominantly Jewish artists, known as the École de Paris. The majority including Marc Chagall, Isaac Dobrinsky, Jacques Lipchitz lived and worked together in great poverty in the studios known as La Ruche ('the Beehive') near the old Vaugirard slaughterhouses of Montparnasse.

During the First World War Soutine enlisted in the work brigades but was soon dismissed on health grounds, having developed the stomach problems which would later kill him. His oeuvre includes a series of powerful, visceral landscapes and an important series of Rembrandt-inspired beef carcasses painted in a characteristic, expressionistic style. He held his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Bing, Paris in 1927. From then Soutine worked mainly in Paris, spending the summers near Chartres with his patrons Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing. After 1941, using a false identity card, he sought refuge from occupied Paris in Touraine, but in 1943, suffering from a rapid decline in health, Soutine returned to Paris, France where he died on 9 August 1943, following an operation for perforated stomach ulcers.