Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Property from the Colin Family Collection 
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Vache à l'herbage

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Vache à l'herbage
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 54' (upper right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Vache à l'herbage J. Dubuffet Aout 54' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
38 x 45 in. (96.5 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner
M. Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule X, Lausanne, 1965, p. 79, no. 105 (illustrated).
L. Trucchi, Jean Dubuffet, Rome, 1965, p. 183, no. 159 (illustrated).
J. Thrall Soby, Paintings, Watercolors, Drawing and Sculpture collected by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, New York, 1960, no. 98 (illustrated).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, J. Dubuffet--Recent Paintings, Collages & Drawings, November 1954, n.p, no. 12.
Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Institute, The 1955 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, October-December 1955, pl. 26, no. 82 (as "Purple Cow").
New York, Knoedler Gallery, The Colin Collection, April-May 1960, n.p., no. 98 (illustrated).
New York, Stephen Hahn Gallery, Vaches, October-November 1972.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Paris, Centre National d'Art Contemporain and Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, April-December 1973, p. 109, no. 71 (illustrated).
Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Vienna, Museum moderner Kunste-Museum des XX Jahrhunderts, Cologne, Joseph-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Dubuffet Retrospective, July 1980-March 1981, p. 157, no. 142 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Art Brut was a celebration and exploration of the primitive, the direct, and the unschooled, embracing the vitality and truth found in graffiti, and the art of children and the insane. Jean Dubuffet, in turn, pursued these themes in his own art. Like Rousseau, Dubuffet recognized the rough and limiting chains of civilization, and sought to liberate nature--human and otherwise--from the despair and destruction of his civilization - post World War II Europe. Embracing the pervasive existentialism of his time, Dubuffet sought to show that an individual could at least shape his own existence, regardless of the chaos of his civilized context.

Dubuffet usually worked on a single theme for an extended period, and in 1954 he turned to the figure of the cow. While Picasso had painted bulls for decades, few advanced artists had painted a cow, and when Dubuffet did so, it seemed to set itself against a whole tradition of the animal as a heroic metaphor. Dubuffet's rare and celebrated cow paintings are hardly conventional views of the animal. In fact, many of these paintings seem to be less about the cow than the soil and the land which the creature inhabits. Yet, unexpectedly, the cows depicted in this series fill their frames almost to the edges, forcing us to see the cow and everything that it reflects within the outline of its body. Moreover, Dubuffet's painterly technique is so visceral and evident on the surface impasto that these cow canvases minimize their subject in favor of their spectacle.

The flattened body of the cow depicted in Vache à l'herbage not only recalls the artist's earlier depictions of landscape (especially the so-called 'Landscapes of the Mind'), but it also anticipates his later ones (taken to the extreme, for example, in the Texturologies). The cow is also, evocative of Dubuffet's celebrated Corps de dame pictures of 1950. There as here, the body is represented as a strange, flat, pancake-like form. And both the depiction of the women in the Corps paintings and the cow force us to reconsider the nature of these subjects and our relationship to them, by deliberately effacing traditional semiotic associations.

Vache à l'herbage is figuratively basic and materially essential. This picture embodies the flattening of the figure as well as the primal elevation of the surface. Dubuffet's experiments with the quick-drying capabilities of enamel paints to create a lively and provocative surface texture that resembles dried mud is one of the most significant features of this picture. The paint seems to decompose on the surface itself, rendering an intricate network of fissures and crackles. Here is a more raw representation of nature.

The use of crackling enamel paint in Vache à l'herbage also allowed Dubuffet to yield part of his painterly process to chance whereby the picture could, to some extent, make itself. Dubuffet would then carefully exaggerate a few of the crevices and details before embellishing the surface with oils. The organic growth of the surface impasto is testament to Dubuffet's creative joy: "An artwork is all the more enthralling the more of an adventure it has been, particularly if it bears the mark of this adventure, and if one can discern all the struggles that occurred between the artist and the intractabilities of the materials. As if he himself did not know where it would all lead" (Dubuffet, "Notes for the Well-Read", pp. 67-86, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, ed. M. Glimcher, New York, 1987, p. 69). Just as we can see and celebrate the traces of Giacometti's hand in the bumps and gouges on his figurative sculptures of the period, the surface in Vache à l'herbage and Dubuffet's other masterworks is a fundamental index of the artist's creative process and joy.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Vache à l'herbage is its provenance. The work is being sold by the Colin Family Collection. Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Colin were a remarkable couple, deeply invested in the arts. Like Dubuffet, the Colin family sought the new, the beautiful, and the challenging with astonishing sensitivity and finesse. As prominent and passionate collectors, deeply invested in the art of their time, the Colin's support and enthusiasm for Dubuffet's work helped the artist's reputation to flourish. And over time, the family established one of the most extensive and significant groups of Dubuffet's works. They had their pick of so many of Dubuffet's canvases, and Vache ©a l'herbage is one they chose and celebrated. Vache à l'herbage is a fertile Post-War masterpiece which carries with it the Colin family provenance, a permanent mark of distinction.

Jean Dubuffet, la Juive, 1950. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Field next to the other Road, 1981. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Pablo Picasso, La Ch/gevre, 1950. © 2006 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Jean Dubuffet, Vache no. 4, plate XXVIII for Matiere et Memoire and/or Vache bleue dans une ville (W. 40 and/or W. 51), 1944. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Jean Dubuffet, Vache au nez subtil, 1954. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Jean Dubuffet looking out the window, Paris. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Georgia Colin (center) with Jean Dubuffet. (right) © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Replica of Lascaux cave painting of a bull and horse. © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS.

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