Bernard Buffet

Adored by collectors but often derided by critics and contemporaries, French painter, printmaker and illustrator Bernard Buffet courted controversy from the moment he burst on to the Paris scene in the years following World War II. His body of work — a parade of gaunt expressionist figures, tortured depictions of Christ and bleak still-lifes — saw him hailed as the pin-up of the Left Bank. Yet, by the time he took his own life at 71 after a career cut short by Parkinson’s disease, his reputation was chequered with accusations of popularism and conventionality.

Born in Paris in 1928, Buffet came of age under the Nazi occupation. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and by the age of 19 had had his first solo show. Buffet’s was an austere vision of the world that chimed perfectly with the atmosphere of post-war alienation championed by the fashionable existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. It earned him immediate popular acclaim and in 1948, at the age of 20, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de la Critique. Ten years later, now a highly renowned artist, he was hailed by The New York Times Magazine as one of ‘France’s Fabulous Young Five’, together with Françoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot.

Buffet’s style changed little between his early work in series such as ‘The Horrors of War’ (1955) and later paintings such as Sumo Rikishi (1980–81). By the 1950s, success had transformed this archetype of the Left Bank existentialist into a world-famous artist-celebrity who travelled by Rolls-Royce and holidayed at his chateau in Provence. Innovations in contemporary art were leaving Buffet behind.

During the 1950s and 1960s, as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism purged representation from the canvas, Buffet’s continued repertoire of clowns, bullfighters, cityscapes and flagellated Christs was left open to accusations of quaintness, even kitsch. Nevertheless, in Japan, where two museums are dedicated to his work, he remained a giant, and his paintings and prints are in the collections of both the Tate and the Pompidou Centre.

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Les clowns musiciens, le saxophoniste

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Les clown s musiciens, le saxophonist e

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Deux clowns, saxophone

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Clown sur fond jaune

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown au chapeau noir fond rouge

Bernard Buffet (France, 1928-1999)

Clown aux tasses à café

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown au chapeau jaune

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown blanc au chapeau vert

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Deux clowns à la grosse caisse

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Grand hibou et petit duc

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Baigneuse à Cannes

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le port de Beaulieu

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Place de la Concorde

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Bouquet de dahlias dans un vase

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Venise, le Pont du Rialto

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

New York "O.N.U."

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown au petit chapeau jaune

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown au chapeau claque

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

La Tour Eiffel, vue du Trocadéro

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le château de Versailles

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown à la marguerite

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Deux oiseaux dont un picorant

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le bar du Liberty's

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le château de Versailles et la statue de Flore

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Bouquet de roses

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Azalée rouge dans un pot

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

L'Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le port de Beaulieu

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Clown au petit chapeau jaune

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Nature morte sur une table

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Environs de Doëlan, retour de la pêche

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999)

Le pont des Soupirs

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

L’Eglise jaune