'Little Pastry Chef' to Bring Millions at Auction

It's the "Little Pastry Chef" painting with the big price tag.

You may not have heard of Chaim Soutine, but collectors have. The work from the early 20th-century painter's chef series has been estimated at $22 million in a May 9th auction.

"Of the series of the six pastry chefs in existence, four of them are in public institutions already… so it's extremely rare and we're very privileged to bring it to the market," said Brooke Lampley, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Christie's New York, which is running the auction.

Soutine, a Russian-born artist known for his portraits of Parisian workers, began painting the chef series in 1919 when he was an unknown artist. By the time he painted "Little Pastry Chef," he had become famous, partly because of this series.

The eccentric collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes made Soutine's fortune when he saw one of his chef paintings in an art dealer's collection. Dr. Barnes's attention brought Soutine higher prices for his work.

Despite his new fortune, Soutine continued to depict the working class. "Soutine was exposing the guts of Parisian society in some senses. He was exposing the workers or the working class not only the pastry chefs but people in all different trades," said Lampley.

The young chef is depicted in a plain uniform, in front of a simple background. Yet his expression and mood shines through.

"This painting was selection to be the cover illustration of the artist catalog resume which is a comprehensive publication of the entire artist's body of work. So that scholar also selected this work among all the works in Soutine's canon as the most representative of an emblem of everything he was achieving in painting," said Lampley.

There will likely be nothing "working class" about the new owner.

"The estimate for this painting is sixteen to twenty-two million dollars," Lampley said.