Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Property from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Barbe du Seigneur Mongol

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Barbe du Seigneur Mongol
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 59' (lower right); titled and dated again 'Barbe du seigneur mongol juin 59' (on the reverse)
India ink and paper collage on paper
30 x 13 1/8 in. (76.2 x 33.3 cm.)
Executed in 1959.
Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris
Larry Aldrich, New York, 1960
Robert Elkon Gallery, New York, 1970
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1972
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XV: as-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, Lausanne, 1964, pp. 29 and 86, no. 32 (illustrated).
New York, Pace Gallery, Dubuffet: Works on Paper, March-April 1971, no. 24.
New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Twentieth Century Masters, October-November 1971, no. 8.
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Graphics from Four Bay Area Collections, June-August 1973.
Stanford University Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Drawings from the Anderson Collection: Auguste Rodin to Elizabeth Murray, November 1988-February 1989, p. 9, no. 17 (illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, October 2000-January 2001, pp. 306 and 361, pl. 170, no. 75 (illustrated in color).

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Recognized as one of the most groundbreaking and innovative artists working in the mid-20th century, Jean Dubuffet’s renunciation of traditional methods and modes resulted in a dynamic oeuvre that cast light on the far reaches of the art world. Barbe de Seigneur Mongol is a striking example of his collage work, and reasserts his continued stylistic journey through all manner of media. Created just before his return to Paris and the subsequent Paris Circus series, one can see this piece as a premonition to that unique cast of characters. About these works the artist noted, “The presence in them of the painter now is constant, even exaggerated. They are full of personages, and this time their role is played with spirit” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in P. Selz “Statement on Paintings of 1961,” The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 165). Prefiguring these urban individuals, Dubuffet’s Mongol lord is a generalized reference to an imagined type. It is less about the depiction of a specific person and more about making the viewer assemble a personality from different materials and textures. This attention to the nexus between materiality and representation is always at the forefront of Dubuffet’s work, and speaks to his ability to mold raw elements into characters and figures with distinct personalities.

Boldly occupying the entire picture plane, varying speckled sheets of torn paper come together under Dubuffet’s expert hand to construct a wide-eyed face overgrown by a massive, rectangular beard. Splotches of pigment have soaked into the work in some areas, while in others the artist has built up the surface with gritty materials. Each ripped edge serves as a border that holds the contents of the collage at bay and keeps them from visually flooding into each other. This tension between the compositional elements of the countenance is a signature of Dubuffet’s approach to portraiture, typified when he noted, “In order for a portrait to work for me, I need it to be hardly a portrait. At the limit where it is no longer a portrait. It’s there that it functions with its greatest force” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1993, p. 29). Barbe de Seigneur Mongol is only a breath away from being a scattered pile of roughly-torn paper. Its humanity comes together for an instant in our viewing.

Part of his Barbe series, Barbe de Seigneur Mongol exhibits the same complex perspective and intense focus on the subject’s massive beard as its cohorts. Produced while the artist was living in Vence, in the Alpes Maritimes of Southern France, this collage of mottled surfaces and torn edges assembles itself into a human face in a feat of pareidolia that Dubuffet counted on in his more abstract compositions. Art historian Peter Selz, commenting on the series, notes, “Some of the Beards… look like gravel runs and have that geological feeling inherent in so much of Dubuffet’s work. Some resemble great rock formations or age-old boulders predating man’s presence on this planet. Or they appear to be survivors of ancient barbaric—that is to say, bearded—civilizations. 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). Dubuffet had an innate ability for infusing his avant-garde style with both a near-prehistoric quality and also a direct reference to the materials with which he worked. Sand, graphite, and swirling pools of ink intermingle to create a gritty mélange that affords a visual depth beyond the simplicity of the work’s base materials.

Dubuffet was known for his radical approach to depicting humanity, and his eschewal of traditionally-held notions of beauty. Creating portraits that melded with their materials, he pushed the boundaries of what representational figuration could be. The artist spoke to this practice, saying, “For most western people, there are objects that are beautiful and others that are ugly; 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,” quoted in M. Glimcher, ed., Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 129). By throwing off the mantle of centuries-old standards of depiction, Dubuffet was able to tap into something more primal, more raw, and more purely human.

In October 1944, as the end of WWII drew near, Dubuffet found himself the subject of a hugely influential exhibition titled Tableaux et dessins de Jean Dubuffet, at Galerie René Drouin on the Place Vendôme. It was here that his newly-found style of mixing sand and debris into his paint, as well as the adoption of some Surrealist techniques like grattage, was shown to an art audience dealing with war and an unsettled world. However, it was in 1945 that Dubuffet became enamored with drawings made by residents at a mental hospital in Switzerland and started his search for Art Brut. This style of outsider artwork was formulated by Dubuffet as works characterized by a complete isolation from the traditional art world. Made with no art education on style, convention, or composition, the works were expressive of a singular creative process connected to the individual. Although schooled in studio art and well-versed in its history, Dubuffet sought to emulate this untethered practice in his own work. Adamantly opposed to authority and strictures, his works veered tangentially from the mainstream while still attracting the support of Surrealist André Breton and critic Michel Tapié. This poignant conversation between the avant garde and the world outside created a striking dichotomy that made Dubuffet one of the most innovative figures in post-WWII European art.

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