In the early 1940s, Jean Dubuffet launched a vigorous attack on the accepted hierarchies of Western art, commencing an influential artistic campaign that would endure for four decades. Vue de Paris: quartiers résidentiels (Vue de Paris: les boutiques) is an early example of his distinctive approach to painting, which employed deliberately crude techniques and jarring contrasts of color to declare his anti-cultural stance. In this work, he celebrated the raw energy of the streets of Paris, painted in a manner that recalls the urgent scribbles of graffiti that could be found on the streets themselves. Yet it is far from an off-hand composition, as Dubuffet reveals an utterly sophisticated command of surprising rhythms and dissonant harmonies in his colorful application of paint.
Part of Dubuffet's formative series of paintings known as Views of Paris, Vue de Paris: quartiers résidentiels (Vue de Paris: les boutiques) was created in January 1944, less than two years after Dubuffet finally resolved to devote himself to an artistic career after a few aborted attempts over the past decades. He had very briefly served in the French army after being drafted in 1939, although Dubuffet, ever the anti-conformist, was discharged after being briefly imprisoned for failing to salute an officer. As the Germans had occupied Paris since 1940, Dubuffet's sudden artistic conversion came, somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of the grim days of the Nazi occupation. Despite the oppressive circumstances of the occupation, or perhaps deliberately in spite of this, Dubuffet chose to pay homage to Parisians going about their daily lives on the city streets. In Vue de Paris: quartiers résidentiels (Vue de Paris: les boutiques) he depicts a variety of businesses lining an apartment-filled street, which include from left to right a wine purveyor, bar, shoe repair shop, restaurant, cured foods shop, hairdresser and tobacconist. The wine-seller's shop strikes an autobiographical note, since Dubuffet had previously worked for his family business as a wine merchant. Shunning the grand boulevards that artists such as Monet and Pissarro had earlier celebrated, Dubuffet's scene appears to focus on a more modest working-class neighborhood.
Dubuffet's first solo show in Paris took place in October 1944, mere months after the liberation of Paris. Held at Galerie René Drouin on Place Vendôme, this exhibit of Dubuffet's deliberately naive and provocative works was a succès de scandale. Although there were many who decried the exhibition, and even protested it, Dubuffet received enthusiastic reviews by a coterie of influential intellectuals with whom he had become friends, such as Paul Eluard, Jean Paulhan and others. Writer Georges Limbour, for example, declared in 1944 that Dubuffet's painting "inflames the imagination, is invigorating and dazzling" (quoted in A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York, 1981, p. 14). The Hillmans acquired the present work directly from Galerie René Drouin in Paris in 1952. They were among the first collectors of Dubuffet's work in the United States, where he would gain a distinguished reputation, particularly among fellow artists.
Dubuffet, like many other artists and intellectuals of the time who were dismayed by the state of humanity amidst the seemingly endless brutalities of the Second World War, looked to sources outside of the accepted canon of Western civilization. Just two years after painting the present work, Dubuffet commenced his famous collection of "Art Brut," or "Raw Art," which was comprised of art made by those from those outside the confines of fine art training and conventional society--prisoners, mentally deranged, isolated provincials, psychic mediums, as well as children. He had been fascinated by outsider art since 1923, when, on a visit to Switzerland, he received copy of Artistry of the Mentally Ill by Hanz Prinzhorn. Dubuffet brought elements of such unconventional aesthetic sensibilities into his own work--such as compulsive repetition, elements of chance, and a rejection of traditional perspective, scale and naturalistic color--all of which are already apparent in Vue de Paris: quartiers résidentiels (Vue de Paris: les boutiques).
Rather than appeal to the artistic elite and their wealthy patrons, Dubuffet sought a new audience for his art. He declared in 1946 that he aimed not "at the mere gratification of a handful of specialists, but would much rather amuse and interest the man in the street when he comes home from work. It is the man in the street that I'm after, whom I feel closest to, with whom I want to make friends and enter into confidence and connivance, and he is the one I want to please and enchant by means of my work" (quoted in P. Selz, Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 10). In reality, however, Dubuffet's work was admired by avant-garde audiences above all. The smiling stick figures who populate the street seem to pay homage to his fellow man, while also taking a satirical punch. This was typical of Dubuffet's wit, as Peter Selz explained, "the artist has depicted this disparaged world with the mixture of cruelty and tenderness which is particular to his humor" (ibid., p. 14). Vue de Paris: quartiers résidentiels (Vue de Paris: les boutiques) is one of Dubuffet's first important street scenes celebrating life in the Paris, a significant early theme that he would return to in his Paris Circus works of the early sixties.
(fig. 1) Jean Dubuffet, Limbour faon fiente de poulet (Limbour wie aus Hhnerdreck) 1946. BARCODE 24411097
(fig. 2) Photograph of the artist, circa 1980.BARCODE 24411110
(fig. 3) Jean Dubuffet, La rue (Die strae), 1943.BARCODE 24411103
(fig. 4) Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre, matin, temps gris, 1897. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1905 (204-2). BACODE 24411080