Bernard Buffet was a French painter who found his artistic voice between the 1940s and the 1950s. Through his figurative paintings, he elaborated a unique style of expression, characterised by strong, angular black outlines, stylised figures and flat colours. Buffet started his career in 1943, enrolling at the Ecole Nationale Suprieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. Promoted by the enthusiastic art critic Pierre Descargues, Buffet obtained his first personal exhibition in 1947. On that occasion the Muse National d'Art Moderne of Paris bought the painting Nature morte au poulet for its collection. The distinctive style of Buffet's works gained him a wide success and from the early 1950s onwards, he became a regular and important presence in the Parisian and international art scene, often presenting his works grouped in thematic series. Thanks to the graphic quality of his style, Buffet also illustrated numerous literary works throughout his career and designed the stage sets of several operas and ballet productions. In 1971 the French State awarded Buffet the Lgion d'Honneur and in 1974 the painter was elected member to the Acadmie des Beaux-Arts. In 1973, a passionate collector founded the Muse Bernard Buffet in Shizuoka Prefecture, Nagaizumi-cho, in Japan, which holds a collection of over 2000 works by the artist.
Deux clowns, saxophone (Lot 18) was executed by Bernard Buffet in 1989. The picture portrays a tragicomic duo: two musicians, in flamboyant clown costumes, stand facing the viewer, engaging us with a melancholic gaze that is at odds with the cheerful character of their attire; the exaggerated make-up on their faces contrasts sharply with their forlorn expressions. In its combination of music and theatre costumes, Deux clowns, saxophone evokes a tradition which had been central to much of the art of the Avant-garde. In the first half of the Twentieth Century, in fact, clowns, acrobats and musicians had become symbolic figures in the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault. In those years, the figure of the circus performer was often used as a representation of the marginalised, story-teller figure of the artist himself, evoking the hardships of his vocation, but also the charm and magic of his art, as he conjures new imaginary worlds into existence, immerging the viewer in his narrative web. Deux clowns, saxophone presents the theme of the clown in the unmistakable style of Buffet: the figures are outlined with strong, expressive black lines, combined with flat areas of colours, adding to the picture's charged atmosphere.
By depicting two clowns, Deux clowns, saxophone revisits a subject which had already preoccupied Buffet in the mid-1950s. In 1955, Buffet had in fact explored the theme of the circus, depicting acrobats troupes and clowns, whose mournful expressions clashed with the exaggerated flamboyance of their costumes and the apparently gleeful tone of the their acts. Viewed in the context of Post-War Europe, Buffet's 1955 clowns may have appeared as symbolic figures, projecting the angst and suffering in which men were left after the war. Buffet's art in general was understood to be akin to the Existentialist philosophy which compellingly voiced the feeling of disorientation which characterised the Post-War period. That 1955 series of clowns enjoyed a great success and, that same year, Buffet was voted the best artist in Paris in a poll organised by the art review Connaissance des Arts.
Painted in 1989, Deux clowns, saxophone seems to return to the theme of the clown with a different perspective from that employed during the Post-War period. The picture belongs to a series of works in which the clowns appear as impassive figures, at odds with the festive ambience evoked by the instruments they hold and the clothes they wear. Yet, compared with the 1955 series, the colours in these pictures are brighter and the figures appear less tormented. While during the Post- War period Buffet had turned the clown into a symbol of malaise and suffering, in the 1980s the artist seemed to depict the same subject in a way that hinted at coming to terms with their disillusionment. Unaffected by the comic appearances of their condition, the figures in Deux clowns, saxophone display a forbearing, perhaps even hopeful stance.