JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
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JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
4 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)

L'homme au papillon

JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
L'homme au papillon
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 54' (lower left); signed again, titled and dated again 'L'homme au papillon J. Dubuffet octobre 54' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 x 38 1/8 in. (129.5 x 97 cm.)
Painted in 1954
Galerie Rive Gauche, Paris.
Kootz Gallery, New York.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London.
E. J. Power, London (acquired from the above, January 1958).
Private collection (by descent from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2017.
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Fascicule X: Vaches-Petites statues de la vie précaire, Paris, 1969, p. 133 (illustrated, p. 67, no. 87).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Incantations, February-March 1957.
London, Tate Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, April-May 1966, no. 60 (illustrated. p. 39).
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Alberto Giacometti: A Line Through Time, April-August 2016, no. 3.10 (illustrated in color, p. 41).
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Agiant of twentieth-century painting, Jean Dubuffet was an artist who redefined what was considered to be mainstream art in an effort to disrupt the status quo and force his medium into a state of reckoning. L’homme au papillon is an undoubted masterwork in the context of the artist’s oeuvre, and displays his stylistically innovative talents at their peak. Embodying the furious energy of Art Brut, Dubuffet tempers his highly gestural paint application with an idyllic subject. The butterfly was a central motif in the painter’s work of the 1950s, and this example is surely one of the best representations of man and insect created during this period. Throughout his career, he insisted on being as forthright in his methods and compositions as possible. Dubuffet noted that "painting is a much more immediate language and much more direct, than the language of words: much closer to the cry, or to the dance. That is why painting is a way of expression of our inner voices much more effective than that of words. Painting allows one to express the various stages of thought, including the deeper levels, the underground stages of mental processes" (J. Dubuffet, quoted at the Arts Club in Chicago on December 20, 1951, V. da Costa, F. Hergott, eds., Jean Dubuffet, Barcelona, 2006, p. 119). Not merely a depiction of a man and a butterfly, L’homme au papillon is a treatise on the artist’s mental state at that moment in time. Relying on a visceral, raw presentation that sprang directly from his spirited method of painting, Dubuffet embraced the less polished aspects of painting in an effort to more fully understand the art form.

Filling the canvas with multicolored strokes in textural, rich impasto, Dubuffet depicts an abstracted male figure in profile, his jaunty hat prominent upon his rounded head. One arm extends backward and is bent at the elbow while the other reaches up with outstretched fingers toward the spotted rendering of a pink and purple butterfly. Hovering close to the man’s pursed lips and long nose, it seems to transfix his gaze and freeze his motion for a split second. Like Picasso, Dubuffet intentionally eschews any realistic three dimensional illusion in his portrayal so that the butterfly man interacts directly with his surroundings. The artist places the pale figure on a field of burnt umber. At the top, near the hat, a darker brown is used that creates a divide between ground and sky. Throughout all of these areas, Dubuffet adds in brighter reds, yellows, and the occasional blue and green with a special attention paid to creating a varied surface that highlights the palette knife and thick brushstrokes that were used in its creation.

Emphasis on the very materials and the almost crude rendition of the subject were important to Dubuffet throughout his career as he purposefully pushed against established norms and traditions of beauty in art. "For most western people, there are objects that are beautiful and others that are ugly,” he extolled, “there are beautiful people and ugly people, beautiful places and ugly ones. But not for me. Beauty does not enter into the picture for me. I consider the western notion of beauty completely erroneous. I absolutely refuse to accept the idea that there are ugly people and ugly objects. Such an idea strikes me as stifling and revolting" (J. Dubuffet, "Anticultural Positions", 1951, quoted in M. Glimcher, ed., Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 129). Infusing his work with the same fervor found in the Abstract Expressionist compositions of his American colleagues, Dubuffet looked to expand on the vitality of action painting and push the avant-garde further into new territories.

L’homme au papillon was realized at a time of intense creativity for Dubuffet. Though residing in Paris, he would often travel through the French countryside to visit his ailing wife who was recovering at a sanatorium in Clermont-Ferrand. Trading the urban environment for more serene surroundings, bits of the natural environment found their way into works from this period. Along with a number of landscapes and his revered Vaches series, he also created a group of portraits that source their characters from the pastoral mode of life. Among them, Le Planteur and L’Homme au Chapeau de Fourrure give us some insight into the individuals Dubuffet happened across. He noted about this time, “I became preoccupied with country subject—fields, grassy pastures, cattle, carts, and the work of the fields” (Jean Dubuffet, ‘Vaches, Herbe, Frondaisons’: Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, pp. 96-103). In addition to using them as subjects, the artist also took to including readymade organic materials in his work like tobacco leaves and butterfly wings. The latter were fashioned into a number of collages in 1953 and 1955, so L’homme au papillon can be understood as a self-portrait of the artist as lepidopterist. To further this assumption, we note the man’s wide-brimmed hat and bald head (two personal trademarks of the artist) as he walks with the butterfly wondering whether to marvel at its beauty in the wild or implant it into his artwork for future generations.

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