• The Leslie Waddington Collecti auction at Christies

    Sale 14175

    The Leslie Waddington Collection

    4 October 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 14

    Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

    Visiteur au chapeau bleu (Visitor with Blue Hat)

    Estimate

    Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
    Visiteur au chapeau bleu (Visitor with Blue Hat)
    signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 55' (upper right); signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'Visiteur au chapeau bleu J. Dubuffet Vence, avril 55' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    45 3/8 x 35 1/8 in. (115.2 x 89.2 cm.)
    Painted in April 1955


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    Painting can illumine the world with magnificent discoveries. It can imbue man with new myths and new mystiques, to reveal the infinitely numerous undivined aspects of things and values of which we were formerly unaware
    —J. DUBUFFET

    Early in 1955 Dubuffet, searching for a good climate for his sick wife, took a house in Vence, a little town in the hills behind Nice. He painted first the gardens of Vence, in a mood of “refined primitivism … in natural colours, rather light, but stony, earthy, sandy”. The rich oil pastes he was using became thicker and thicker: not content with scratching lines with a stick, Dubuffet began to make impressions with manufactured objects like household utensils which he bought in Nice
    —A. BOWNESS

    Both Dubuffet and Basquiat were engaged in a methodical exploration of states of perception, knowing, and being. They used the means that best suited their purpose, arriving at remarkably similar artistic forms
    —L . RINDER

    What to me seems interesting is to recover in the representation of an object the whole complex set of impressions we receive as we see it in everyday life, the manner in which it has touched our sensibility, and the forms it assumes in our memory
    —J. DUBUFFET

    ‘I see no great difference (metaphysically, that is) between the paste I spread and a cat, a trout or a bull. My paste is a being as these are. Less circumscribed, to be sure, and more emulsified … capable of bringing to us astonishing news from the country of the non-circumscribed, from the country of the formless … Formless does not mean inert, far from it!
    —J. DUBUFFET


    Bristling with raw painterly energy, Jean Dubuffet’s Visiteur au chapeau bleu (Visitor with a Blue Hat) offers a primordial vision of bucolic joie de vivre. Executed in April 1955, it stands among the finest large-scale works that the artist produced during the first few months of his six-year sojourn in the South of France. Carved into the visceral surface of the canvas, two figures converse beneath a bright blue stretch of sky, whilst a third looks on from the window of his whitewashed house. A scorching sun beats down upon the earth below, baking the pigment into the very fibre of the linen. Blending rich streaks of scumbled and flecked impasto with a caustic, almost graffiti-like scrawl, Dubuffet’s pastoral tableau hovers before the viewer like a slab of uncultivated earth, or a cave painting inscribed into an ancient rock face. Though the mid-1950s brought about a period of success for Dubuffet – his first UK exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts coincided with the present work – his wife’s illness prompted the couple to seek a new rural setting, far from the noise and distractions of the city. In the small hillside town of Vence, just outside of Nice, Dubuffet placed himself in direct communion with his rustic surroundings: its rough terrains, its sprawling pastures and its wild, untamed beauty. Following his early pursuit of art brut – primitive visual languages unmarred by taught principles – Dubuffet’s time in Vence allowed him to escape the trappings of contemporary culture, and to imbibe the unschooled teachings of the natural world. With its geological strata of pigment, intuitive linear immediacy and uninhibited gestural freedom, Visiteur au chapeau bleu showcases the formal and technical liberation that defined Dubuffet’s earliest paintings at Vence. Originally owned by E. J. Power, it has featured in several major retrospectives of the artist’s work, including those held at the Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris (1960-61), Tate, London (1966) and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C. (1993).

    Like the great French masters before him – Monet, Cézanne, Picasso – Dubuffet’s countryside retreat breathed new life into his practice. However, for Dubuffet, the natural landscape was not simply a subject: rather, its abundant life-forms – its flora and fauna – harboured the primal strains of knowledge he had hitherto sought in the art of psychics, mental health patients and isolated communities. It was only by sidestepping conventional pictorial strategies, he believed, that it was possible to unearth long-concealed existential truths. His exploration of art brut had led him across the world – from psychiatric institutes in Switzerland to the Bedouin tribes of the Sahara desert – but it was ultimately in the quiet corners of his native land that Dubuffet was able to strip his technique back to its most basic principles. As Alan Bowness has explained, ‘He painted first the gardens of Vence, in a mood of “refined primitivism … in natural colours, rather light, but stony, earthy, sandy”. The rich oil pastes he was using became thicker and thicker: not content with scratching lines with a stick, Dubuffet began to make impressions with manufactured objects like household utensils which he bought in Nice’ (A. Bowness, Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1966, p. 42). In the present work, Dubuffet allows the grain of the pigment to assume a life of its own, oscillating before the viewer like a living, breathing substance. ‘I see no great difference (metaphysically, that is) between the paste I spread and a cat, a trout or a bull’, he explained. ‘My paste is a being as these are. Less circumscribed, to be sure, and more emulsified … capable of bringing to us astonishing news from the country of the non-circumscribed, from the country of the formless … Formless does not mean inert, far from it!’ ( J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, p. 63).

    Reminiscent of Dubuffet’s early 1949 series Paysages grotesques, the works produced during this profoundly exploratory period foreshadowed the Topographies and Texturologies that occupied him during the late 1950s: dark, textured studies of the natural terrain beneath his feet. With its muddied ground subsuming over half the canvas, seeping directly into its weave like soil, Visiteur au chapeau bleu may be understood within this context. ‘What to me seems interesting’, he explained, ‘is to recover in the representation of an object the whole complex set of impressions we receive as we see it in everyday life, the manner in which it has touched our sensibility, and the forms it assumes in our memory’ ( J. Dubuffet, ‘Vaches, Herbe, Frondaisons’, in P. Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, p. 97). At the same time, its pulsating surface, vibrant pigments and vision of innocent quotidian bliss may be seen to presage the landmark Paris Circus series that announced Dubuffet’s return to the French capital in 1961. The two figures, in particular, seem to foreshadow the cosmopolitan protagonists that dominated these works, whilst the surging compositional ground – devoid of perspective and quivering like a mosaic – would go on to inform Dubuffet’s depictions of the bustling Parisian streets. ‘Painting can illumine the world with magnificent discoveries’, he wrote. ‘It can imbue man with new myths and new mystiques, to reveal the infinitely numerous undivined aspects of things and values of which we were formerly unaware’ ( J. Dubuffet, ‘Anticultural Positions’, 1951, quoted in M. Glimcher (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, pp. 127-32). It is this primeval sense of wonder that defines Visiteur au chapeau bleu, and which would go on to drive the development of Dubuffet’s practice.

    Provenance

    Galerie Rive Gauche, Paris.
    E.J. Power, London.
    Acquired from the above by Leslie Waddington circa 1985.


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that Artist's Resale Right (ARR) is applicable to the present lot.


    Literature

    'Jean Dubuffet, or the metamophsis of Mr. Macadam', in Mizue, no. 688, July 1962 (illustrated, p. 62).
    M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet--Charrettes, jardins, personnages monolithes, fascicule XI, Lausanne 1969, p. 135, no. 56 (illustrated, p. 53).
    M. Loreau, Jean Dubuffet: Délits, déportements, lieux de haut jeu, Lausanne 1971, p. 596 (illustrated, p. 191).
    E. Gribaudo, La Fiat invita all'incontro con Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Turin, Palazzo della Promotrice Valentino, 1978, p. 103 (illustrated in colour, p. 53).
    A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 97 (illustrated in colour, p. 96).
    M. Yamaguchi, Dubuffet, Tokyo 1986, p. 99, no. 35 (illustrated in colour, p. 41).
    M. Thévoz, Dubuffet, Geneva 1986, p. 280 (illustrated in colour, p. 111).
    B. Duborgel, La Maison: l'artiste et l'enfant, Saint-Étienne 2002, no. 58 (illustrated, p. 72).
    Late Paintings by Jean Dubuffet (1975-82), exh. cat., London, Waddington Custot Galleries, 2012, fig. 1 (illustrated in colour, p. 8).


    Exhibited

    Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Jean Dubuffet 1942-1960, 1960-1961, p. 227, no. 141, pl. 65 (illustrated, p. 318).
    London, Tate Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: paintings, 1966, no. 67 (illustrated, p. 42).
    Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages, 1993, p. 148, no. 60 (illustrated in colour, p. 105).