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JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more 20TH CENTURY MODERN MASTERS FROM A PRIVATE FRENCH COLLECTION
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)

Le Vase de Barbe (Beard Vase)

Details
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
Le Vase de Barbe (Beard Vase)
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 59' (upper right); titled and dated again 'Le vase de barbe octobre 59 B' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 38in. (130 x 96.5cm.)
Painted in October 1959
Provenance
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.
Pinto Collection, Paris.
Daniel Cordier Collection, Paris.
Private Collection, Paris.
Private Collection, Philadelphia.
Meshulam Riklis Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 3 April 1974, lot 99.
Stephen Hahn Inc., New York.
The Maurice and Margo Cohen Collection, Montecito (acquired from the above, May 1983).
Their sale, Christie's New York, 13 May 1999, lot 464.
Private Collection, Switzerland.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001.
Literature
F. Choay, 'Les découvertes d’une rétrospective et la mythologie de la terre dans l’oeuvre de Jean Dubuffet', in Art International, vol. V, no. 1, 1 February 1961, p. 32 (illustrated).
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XV: as-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, Lausanne 1964, pp. 85 and 86, no. 72 (illustrated in colour, p. 59).
M. Loreau, Jean Dubuffet: Délits, Déportements, Lieux de Haut Jeu, Lausanne 1971, p. 314 and 599 (illustrated in colour, p. 319).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet, Basel 1975, no. 53 (illustrated in colour, p. 70).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, pp. 123 and 124 (illustrated in colour, p. 125).
A. Franzke, Jean Dubuffet: Petites statues de la vie précaire. Klein Statuen des unsicheren Lebens, Berlin 1988, no. VIII (illustrated, p. 19).
J. Krí?, Jean Dubuffet, Prague 1989, no. 47 (illustrated in colour, p. 75).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, As-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, 1960, no. 44.
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Jean Dubuffet, 1960-1961, p. 41, no. 99.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Panorama, 1961, no. 15.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, 1962, no. 164 (illustrated, p. 151). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Jean Dubuffet, 1966, no. 88 (illustrated, unpaged).
Philadelphia, Makler Gallery, Jean Dubuffet, 1968.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, The Early Years 1943 to 1959: An Exhibition of Paintings by Jean Dubuffet, 1978, no. 44 (illustrated, unpaged).
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Dubuffet Retrospektive, 1980-1981, no. 176 (illustrated, p. 349). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst and Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle.
Birmingham, Donald Morris Gallery Inc., Jean Dubuffet, Two Decades: 1943-1962, 1983, p. 54, no. 40 (illustrated in colour, p. 47).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, 2016, p. 207 (illustrated in colour, p. 132).
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Tessa Lord Director, Specialist, Head of Evening Auction

Lot Essay

A sprawling, anthropomorphic vision infused with mysticism and whimsy, Le Vase de Barbe (Beard Vase) is a rare and outstanding work from Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated series of Barbes (Beards). Rising totemically from a vase-like base, a human face emerges, its vast, textured beard billowing across the canvas like ancient calligraphy. Included in the artist’s first American retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1962—and more recently in his major 2016 survey at the Fondation Beyeler—the work is among the largest in an extraordinary sequence of nineteen oil paintings that mark the culmination of the Barbes series. Just six other works were painted on this immersive scale, including examples held in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and the Fondation Beyeler. A further two works, slightly smaller in size, reside in the National Gallery of Art Washington D. C. and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Formerly part of several distinguished private collections, and subsequently held in the present ownership for over two decades, Le Vase de Barbe captures the poetic material alchemy that defined one of the most remarkable chapters in Dubuffet’s oeuvre.

Created largely between May and December 1959, Dubuffet’s Barbes are situated at a pivotal moment in his practice. On one hand, they continue the raw, earthy language of his Texturologies, produced in response to his rural surroundings at Vence in the South of France during the late 1950s. On the other hand, their curious cast of characters and writhing painterly textures seem to prefigure elements of the artist’s Paris Circus series, begun two years later following his return to the French capital. Dubuffet had long been fascinated by the intersection between portraiture and landscape—a defining theme of the Fondation Beyeler’s exhibition. Throughout his practice, he sought to portray the human figure as a product of its surroundings, indelibly linked to the textures of the earth. In this regard, the Barbes may be seen as something of a male counterpart to Dubuffet’s earlier series of Corps de dames (Bodies of Women), which cast their female subjects as a vast, natural topographies. Similarly, the present work imagines the beard as a near-abstract geological structure, flecked, scumbled, swirled and spattered with rivulets, fissures and sparkling mineral hues.

Dubuffet’s Barbes have their origins in an idea sparked by his friend Georges Limbour: the Surrealist poet who was one of the artist’s earliest champions. In the introduction to a catalogue for an exhibition of his Texturologies¸ Limbour drew a comparison between Dubuffet and the ancient Stoics: the philosophers of the Hellenistic period who believed that intellectual freedom was the gateway to happiness. In response, Dubuffet sent Limbour a letter containing a drawing of a bearded man—captioned ‘Marcus Aurelius’—in the style of an ancient statue. It was the start of a series that would take multiple forms: from a sequence of india ink imprints, to a number of collage works, to the ultimate set of oil paintings to which the present work belongs. The artist also composed a poetry book entitled As-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, which he subsequently set to music and recorded himself singing. The surreal tenor of the verse is perhaps appropriate given the series’ connection to Limbour; indeed, the present work—with its curious fusion of beard and ancient vessel—seems perhaps more closely aligned with this spirit than many of its companions. ‘Your beard is my boat’, runs one of the lines; ‘Your beard is the sea on which I sail’.

The Barbes may also be seen in the context of Dubuffet’s fascination with ‘Art Brut’—one of the key themes of his major survey at the Barbican, London, this year. Years spent studying the visual creations of children, psychiatric patients, desert tribes and other ‘outsider’ cultures fed into his aesthetic, instilling in him a desire to return art to its most raw, uninhibited state. The Barbes—a term etymologically linked to ‘barbaric’—seem to mock the bearded scholars and deities of Greek and Roman antiquity, posing a witty riposte to Limbour’s lofty characterisation of Dubuffet. Instead, they confront the viewer as arbiters of a different kind of wisdom: an innate, carnal knowledge—spiritual and mysterious—that seems to writhe within the cellular depths of each beard. ‘Some resemble great rock formations or age-old boulders predating man’s presence on this planet’, wrote Peter Selz in the catalogue for Dubuffet’s 1962 retrospective. ‘… Their shapes recall the menhirs of Stonehenge and the Winged Bulls from Assyrian palaces’ (P. Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, p. 149). They speak of a halcyon age in which humankind had not yet lost its connection with the natural—and, indeed, the supernatural—worlds.

For all its conscious anachronism, however, Le Vase de Barbe retains a decidedly contemporary quality. On one hand, the thick, near-abstract textures of Dubuffet’s paintings during this period were closely aligned with the development of European Art Informel, embodied by artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Jean Fautrier, Alberto Burri and Pierre Soulages. At the same time, however, the scrawled, all-over surface patterns of the Barbes invite comparison with contemporaneous achievements in the field of American Abstract Expressionism—notably the work of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. It is perhaps no coincidence that, between 1958 and 1959, the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition The New American Painting had toured eight European cities, showcasing the work of these artists and their compatriots. The transcendental aspirations of their paintings, moreover, certainly chimed with Dubuffet’s own ambitions, which centred on stripping away ingrained ideas about pictorial representation in favour of elemental, sensual revelation. That the present work made its debut in New York just a few short years later is certainly fitting in this regard. Within its mysterious depths, art making is reborn as a vehicle for peeling back centuries of taught knowledge, allowing us to lose ourselves in the primal mysteries of paint.

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