JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE NEUMANN FAMILY COLLECTION
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)

Discoureur fossile (Fossilised Speaker)

Details
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
Discoureur fossile (Fossilised Speaker)
signed 'J.Dubuffet' (on the reverse)
oil, sand and putty on canvas
Executed in 1945
Provenance
Galerie René Drouin, Paris.
Morton G. Neumann, Chicago (acquired from the above circa 1940s), and thence by descent to the present owners.
Literature
L. Trucchi, Jean Dubuffet, Rome 1965, p.375, no. 57 (illustated, p. 93)
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Fascicule II: Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie, Paris 1966, p. 128 and 129, no. 6 (illustrated, p. 18).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 32 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).
M. Yamaguchi, Dubuffet, Tokyo 1986, p. 98, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, p. 13).
J. H. Duffy, Reading Between the Lines, Liverpool 1998, p. 335.
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie. Hautes pâtes de Jean Dubuffet, 1946, p. 37 (illustrated, p. 19).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Jean Dubuffet 1942-1960, 1960, pp. 206, no. 19.
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Morton G. Neumann Family Collection, vol. 1, 1980, p. 136, no. 96 (illustrated, p. 97); vol. II, p. 65. This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago.
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Held for more than seven decades in the renowned Neumann Family Collection, Discoureur fossile (Fossilised speaker) (1945) is a superb example of the radical, visceral visual language that announced the dawn of Jean Dubuffet’s practice. Aptly titled, its subject might well have been mined from the earth’s most ancient depths. The figure—viewed in profile, in the manner of an Egyptian tomb painting—is carved into a gleaming black surface, whose coarse, tarry texture is concocted of sand, paint and putty. He gesticulates with large hands, and sticks his red tongue out as he speaks. Wine-dark skin heightens his lively animation. In 1946, Discoureur fossile was included in Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie: Hautes pâtes par J. Dubuffet, the artist’s debut of his ‘matter paintings’ at the Galérie René Drouin, Paris. Their unveiling was a sensation. Sparking both fury and critical acclaim, the works sold out within days, and thrust Dubuffet firmly into the public eye. Acquired from Galerie René Drouin shortly after the exhibition, Discoureur fossile has been prominently exhibited since, including in an important 1960 retrospective of the artist’s work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and in a major exhibition of the Neumann Family Collection that travelled from the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1981.

Morton G. Neumann, a Chicago businessman, began collecting following his first visit to Europe in the 1940s. His holdings would come to reflect almost every major twentieth-century Western art movement. An astute early acquisition, the present work captures a watershed moment in postwar Parisian culture. In the immediate aftermath of the Vichy regime, Dubuffet’s Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie exhibition declared an upending of traditional art-historical ideals. Inspired by the art of children, tribal societies and asylum inmates, he sought to rejuvenate a convention-bound art world through the elemental, uninhibited vitality of what he called Art brut: ‘raw art.’ His chosen medium of hautes pâtes, or ‘thick pastes’, was key. ‘All of the usual tools of painting—canvases, easels, brushes, paint tubes—bring about a paralysing effect on whoever uses them,’ he said (J. Dubuffet, letter to G. Chaissac, June 1947, in H. Damisch (ed.), Prospectus et tous écrits suivants , vol. 1, Paris 1967, pp. 465-466).

Blending paint and other liquids with an array of powders, plasters and putties—often purchased from hardware stores rather than fine-art suppliers—Dubuffet experimented with countless viscous emulsions in a studio that Georges Limbour described as a ‘fantastic laboratory’ (G. Limbour, 1953, quoted in M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, vol. 2, Paris 1966, p. 121). Varnishes, glues, sand, gravel, straw, string and even broken bottles found their way into his works, whose limited palettes foregrounded their complex textures. He used the end of a paintbrush to score human figures into these near-sculptural surfaces: the vivid portraits at once recalled the art of prehistory and caricatured aspects of everyday life, while furthering Dubuffet’s revolt against classical conceptions of beauty. He described the present work’s character as a ‘tongue-shooter and maker of incantatory mimicry, made in the form of a fossil imprint, the colour of skinned meat’ (J. Dubuffet, ‘Indications descriptives’, in M. Tapié, Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie: Hautes pâtes par J. Dubuffet, exh. cat. Galerie René Drouin, Paris 1946, p. 37).

Dubuffet had not painted at all between October 1944 and March 1945, focusing instead on his lithography series Les Murs (The Walls), which were inspired by the rich patinas and graffiti of walls around Paris. The horizontal hand-printing process turned Dubuffet’s attention from those vertical, mural surfaces towards a flatbed picture plane. This downward stance would continue with the matter paintings: crouched on all fours, he began to pour and scrape his mixtures onto canvases placed flat on the ground. Word of the technique further incensed those who saw Dubuffet’s work as perverse and uncivilised. ‘The critics were outraged by Dubuffet’s avowed “nostalgia and fascination with animality”,’ notes Rachel E. Perry, ‘and they heatedly reminded him that “man finds it more convenient to stand on his feet than to crawl on his hands”’ (R. E. Perry, ‘Painting in Danger: Jean Dubuffet’s Hautes pâtes’, RIHA Journal, 2019, p. 14). Dubuffet himself saw these works’ sense of communion with the past, or with some primal, atavistic human essence, as restorative. In Discoureur fossile, it is as if he has excavated the figure, slab-like and mineral, from beneath sediments of time.

The very weight of the matter paintings, which were often as heavy as sculptures, offered another affront to contemporary aesthetic standards. Far from the buoyancy and purity of the Modernist abstraction that dominated Parisian salons at the time, these were objects that gloried in gravity, physicality, darkness, admixture—and personality. Dubuffet conceived of his materials as having behaviours and dispositions like living things, letting himself be guided by their qualities. Discoureur fossile’s anthracite terrain collapses the traditional separation of figure and ground in every sense of the latter word. With his hieratic, oratorial posture, meanwhile, the humorous speaker echoes Dubuffet’s central idea of uncovering a new artistic language. What might we find if we looked beyond the short-sighted establishment and let the asphalt, the art of outsiders, and the idols of antiquity speak to us as equals? Dubuffet would go on to develop these notions with his Corps de dames (Bodies of women) of the early 1950s, which reimagined the classical nude as an earthy topographic relief, and further series that made geological, metaphysical expanses of the picture plane. Ultimately, his vision would dramatically invigorate the artistic landscape of postwar Europe, and, following the success of numerous exhibitions at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, have enormous impact upon the American avant-garde. Discoureur fossile, aglow with an ancient, volcanic vivacity, declares the birth of a new era.

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