The 1961 canvas, a masterful work from Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated ‘Paris Circus’ series, depicts a Paris revitalised after years of suffering during the Second World War
In a pinnacle year for Jean Dubuffet, it is fitting that Les Grandes Artères, painted between July and August of 1961, will highlight the 15 November Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s New York (estimate: $15-20million). The painting is one of the most accomplished compositions from the ‘Paris Circus’ series, a body of work regarded by many Dubuffet scholars as marking the peak of the artist’s career.
Many examples from the ‘Paris Circus’ series are housed in important international collections including the Tate Gallery, London; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
With a retrospective at the Foundation Beyler, a monographic show at the Acquavella Gallery, and an installation of his monumental sculpture, Welcome Parade, in front of New York’s Seagram Building, global interest in Dubuffet has never been stronger.
Across the bold and vibrant surface of Les Grandes Artères Dubuffet convenes a cast of characters that capture the sense of liberation enjoyed by Paris as it emerged from the darkness of the Second World War. Using his signature naïve style, he lays out the vitality of the French capital, filled with shops, cars and people.
Dubuffet’s breakthrough came in February 1961 with the ‘Paris Circus’ series. Having returned to the city after a six-year self-imposed hiatus in the countryside of southern France, these paintings signalled the artist’s vivacious rediscovery of urban life.
Les Grandes Artères also showcases the artist’s shrewdness and wit — in addition to a bank, a cosmetics shop and a confectioner’s store, Dubuffet depicted storefronts with signage that satirises the consumerism he saw pervading society: Fruits et legumes du desespoir (fruits and vegetables of despair), A l’issue fatale (fatal outcome) and Societé l’indercrottable (hopeless society).
Throughout the 1960s an intoxicating energy swept the globe, in which everyday phenomena were seen anew. In America, Pop art was born, investigating the unique auras surrounding quotidian objects and appropriating the daily images that flooded the collective consciousness.
In France, amidst the throes of New Wave cinema and sexual revolution, Dubuffet created a language that sought to convey the joy of daily living. In Les Grandes Artères, the artist’s new artistic handwriting translates sensory experience and, in doing so, suggests new ways of comprehending our daily existence.
The world auction record for Jean Dubuffet is currently held by Paris Polka, 1961, which is also from Dubuffet’s ‘Paris Circus’ series. The record was achieved at Christie’s New York in May 2015, when it realized $24,805,000.