BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)
BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)
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BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)

Clown sur fond jaune

BERNARD BUFFET (1928-1999)
Clown sur fond jaune
signed and dated 'Bernard Buffet 66' (upper right); numbered '3' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130 x 81 cm. (51 1⁄4 x 31 7⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1966
Galerie David et Garnier, Paris
Findlay Gallery, Inc, Chicago
Private collection, Chicago; sale, Christie's New York, 12 May 1988, Lot 358
Galerie Denoël, Geneva
Private Collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above in the 1990s

This work is recorded in the Maurice Garnier Archives

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Lot Essay

"Painting, we do not talk about it, we do not analyse it, we feel it."
- Bernard Buffet

Bernard Buffet’s Clown sur fond jaune portrays the artist’s iconic motif of the clown, dressed in uniform with a prominent display of medals on his exaggeratedly large shoulder. This wonderfully colourful example presents the theme of the clown in the unmistakable style of Buffet: the figure is outlined with dramatic black lines, combined with flat areas of vivid hue, adding to the picture's charged atmosphere. Having shot to fame in the late-1940s, Bernard Buffet first turned to the subject of clowns and the circus in 1955. Through this ostensibly light-hearted and entertaining subject matter, the flamboyantly attired clowns and acrobats were depicted with solemn or flat expressions that remained at odds with their occupation, revealing a stark contrast between their appearance and their true interior world.

Clown sur fond jaune evokes a tradition which had been central to much of the art of the avant-garde. In the first half of the 20th-century, clowns, acrobats, and musicians had become symbolic figures in the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Georges. In those years, the circus performer was often used as a representation of the marginalized, story-teller figure of the artist himself, evoking the challenges of his vocation, but also the charm and magic of his art, conjuring new imaginary worlds into existence, immersing the viewer in his narrative web.

In Buffet’s continuation of this theme, the clown takes on a more polarised persona, the true emotions of his face hidden by dense make-up and his elaborate clothing at odds with his supposed bright, jolly demeanour. This remained a key motif throughout the course of his oeuvre and would become the most celebrated subjects of his career, the clown evolving into different characters, varying in costume and character throughout. In Clown sur fond jaune, Buffet conflates the figure of the clown with the decorated officer, creating a dramatic clash of appearances between the comic performance and a powerful sense of authority.

Bernard Buffet painted this work in 1966, a time when Abstract Expressionism dominated the international art scene. Buffet persisted with his conviction of figurative paintings and was aligned with the anti-abstract art group L’homme Témoin. His distinctive graphic style with expressive colours created a legacy in modern art history which continues to influence new generations of contemporary artists who embrace figurative elements to convey complex concepts and ideas.

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