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JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)

Bédouin sur l’âne (Bedouin on a donkey)

Details
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
Bédouin sur l’âne (Bedouin on a donkey)
oil and mixed media on canvas laid down on board
51¼ x 38 3/8in. (130 x 97.3cm.)
Executed in May-June 1948
Provenance
Galerie Louis Manteau, Brussels.
Acquired by the family of the present owners in 1958.
Literature
L. Trucchi, Jean Dubuffet, Rome 1965, no. 89 (illustrated, p. 124).
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Roses d’Allah, clowns du désert, vol. IV, Lausanne 1967, p. 214, no. 223 (illustrated, p. 114).
M. Thévoz, Dubuffet, Geneva 1986 (illustrated in colour, p. 48).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet, Cologne 1990, no. 10 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
M. Paquet, Dubuffet, Paris 1993, no. 69 (illustrated in colour, p. 64).
J.-L. Chalumeau (ed.), Dubuffet: 1901-1985, Paris 1996, p. 62, no. 10 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
V. da Costa and F. Hergott (eds.), Jean Dubuffet: Works/Writings/Interviews, Barcelona 2006 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
Exhibited
Cologne, Joseph-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Dubuffet: Retrospektive, 1981, p. 317, no. 63 (illustrated, p. 70).
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.

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Lot Essay

‘We came back from [the Sahara] absolutely cleansed of all the intoxications, really refreshed and renewed, as well as enriched in the ways of savoir-vivre’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, vol. 2, Paris 1995, pp. 247-248).

‘Material and line collide – the paint pushing outward, the line digging inward – to create a surface not so much laid on fat as dynamically fattened: smashed and impacted between opposing forces. The lacerated paint leaks colour, the exact like of which had not been seen before in painting… The effect recalls an old, ethereal aesthetic ideal of Symbolism, synesthesia, realized this time with earthy directness. The effect requires prolonged looking, rewarding a patient viewer with wave upon wave of virtually timed-release pleasure’ (P. Schjeldahl, ‘1942 and After: Jean Dubuffet and His Century’, in Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 1993, p. 16).

‘Perhaps it was the time I spent in the deserts of White Africa that sharpened my taste... for the little, the almost nothing, and especially, in my art, for the landscapes where one finds only the formless’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards An Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 9).

‘The true discovery, the one he had no doubts about, was the sand, a fluid and ductile medium that stretches out to infinity. Undoubtedly here he had found material without form, but above all a complete modification of the relationship between the individual and the space that surrounds him: drunk with immensity in this world dominated by vertigo where the threat always exists of blacking out or losing consciousness … Sand is the only material on which the memory of time is not imprinted. These prints are ephemeral, gradually erased and soon forgotten. We are far from the spaces of memory which characterise Western civilization and which retain the impact of time’ (V. da Costa and F. Hergott, Jean Dubuffet: Works, Writings and Interviews, Barcelona 2006, pp. 41-44).

Housed in the same private collection since 1958, Jean Dubuffet’s Bédouin sur l’âne (Bedouin on a donkey) is among the largest, most majestic and visionary paintings created following the second of the artist’s three seminal sojourns in the Algerian Sahara. A vast, raw terrestrial plane, layered with paint, sand and stones, surges forth in a sea of craters and rivulets beneath the searing glare of the desert sun. Deep incisions and wild lacerations scar Dubuffet’s caustic terrain, scraping away the dark, earthbound matter to reveal geological strata of rich impasto and vibrant painterly scrawl. From a dense plateau of textures and traces, the cloaked figure of a barefooted Bedouin tribesman emerges, regally poised upon the back of a donkey. Carved into the ground like an ancient inscription, he appears before the viewer as both prophet and pilgrim, illuminated from above by the sun’s beating rays. Religion and exoticism, fable and folklore, the mystery and magic of the desert: all are invoked through Dubuffet’s untamed mirage. The arid heat and the dry coarseness of the hard, baked earth become vivid, tangible realities, intoxicating in their physical immediacy. Painted in Paris in May- June 1948, Bédouin sur l’âne stems from a pivotal moment in Dubuffet’s early career. Having sold his family wine business in order to devote himself fully to the artistic profession, it was in 1948 that Dubuffet’s work first achieved significant international recognition, propelled by the success of his debut American solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York. It was also during this period that Dubuffet founded La Compagnie de l’Art Brut, cementing his fascination with the spontaneous, the unfettered, the innate and the intuitive that had left an indelible mark on his consciousness during his time in the desert. His depictions of the Bedouins, a tribal people of nomadic origin, are among the most important early statements of this aesthetic, permitting a newfound liberation from traditional Western culture. Held in the same private European collection for over 55 years, Bédouin sur l’âne presents a virtuosic material vision that embodies the freedom and timelessness of this distant world; that untouched land that would continue to feed Dubuffet’s imagination.

Drawn to warmer climes by the post-War coal restrictions during a freezing Parisian winter, Dubuffet and his wife Lili made their first trip to the small oasis of El Goléa in February 1947, returning periodically over the next two years. For Dubuffet, the Sahara offered ‘a bath of simplicity’; writing to Jacques Berne after his frst excursion, he described how ‘we came back from there absolutely cleansed of all the intoxications, really refreshed and renewed, as well as enriched in the ways of savoir-vivre’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, vol. 2, Paris 1995, pp. 247-248). During these visits, Dubuffet spent much time in the company of the Bedouin people, whose influence was particularly prominent in this southern region of Algeria. His depictions of these figures stand as a testimony to his deliberate immersion in local culture. In preparation for his trip to El Goléa, Dubuffet had made a pointed study of the Arabic language in order ‘to be able to communicate, not with the officials… but with the ordinary local people over there’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in G. Limbour, Tableau bon levain à vous de cuire la pate: L’art brut de Jean Dubuffet, Paris 1953, p. 51). The ancient tribal traditions of these desert-dwelling people spoke directly to Dubuffet’s fascination with unprocessed visual languages: the instinctive, the ungoverned and the raw that lay at the heart of his art brut practice. Rendered with the child-like naivety that would come to define his work, Dubuffet casts the Bedouin as a powerful symbol of unknown elemental wisdom. Embedded in the painting’s surface like a footprint in the sand, Dubuffet’s Bedouin embodies the very essence of ingrained, tactile knowledge that lay at the core of his practice.

However, Dubuffet’s characterisations of the Bedouins fundamentally transcend the simple act of portraiture. It is not the figures themselves that encapsulate the sense of ‘otherness’ so admired by the artist; rather, this achievement lies in their execution. Dubuffet’s figures are ultimately the by-product of his eclectic painterly vocabulary, taking shape through a hypnotic conglomeration of reliefs and incisions, scrapes and smears. In this regard, Dubuffet’s Bedouin is not a formal presence but rather an inherently nomadic construct, the transient result of Dubuffet’s own painterly technique. Writing of Dubuffet’s stylistic vocabulary in the 1940s, Peter Schjeldahl explains how this itinerant approach to image-formation produces a kind of multi-sensory ecstasy that exerts a powerful hold over the viewer: ‘Material and line collide – the paint pushing outward, the line digging inward – to create a surface not so much laid on fat as dynamically fattened: smashed and impacted between opposing forces. The lacerated paint leaks colour, the exact like of which had not been seen before in painting… The effect recalls an old, ethereal aesthetic ideal of Symbolism, synesthesia, realized this time with earthy directness. The effect requires prolonged looking, rewarding a patient viewer with wave upon wave of virtually timed-release pleasure’ (P. Schjeldahl, ‘1942 and After: Jean Dubuffet and His Century’, Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 1993, p. 16).

During the 1940s, Dubuffet’s fascination with the power invested in raw materials led him to experiment with numerous artistic techniques, including engraving and lithography. The lessons learnt from this close engagement with physical substance are palpable in Bédouin sur l’âne. However, as Valérie da Costa and Fabrice Hergott note, his true discovery of this period was sand: ‘a fluid and ductile medium that stretches out to infnity.’ As the authors go on to explain, ‘Undoubtedly here he had found material without form, but above all a complete modification of the relationship between the individual and the space that surrounds him: drunk with immensity in this world dominated by vertigo where the threat always exists of blacking out or losing consciousness… Sand is the only material on which the memory of time is not imprinted. These prints are ephemeral, gradually erased and soon forgotten. We are far from the spaces of memory which characterise Western civilization and which retain the impact of time’ (V. da Costa and F. Hergott, Jean Dubuffet: Works, Writings and Interviews, Barcelona 2006, pp. 41-44). Sand allowed fresh beginnings and new representations; it did not harbour its own history nor dictate its future formations. In the vast, ever-changing spaces of the deserted Saharan landscape, human consciousness was free to roam: to expand, to digress and to reinvent itself. Sand thus became a metaphor for cleansing and reinvigoration, and its tactile, physical presence in Bédouin sur l’âne stands as a powerful material relic of the revelations that Dubuffet experienced in its seemingly endless midst. As the artist recalled, ‘perhaps it was the time I spent in the deserts of White Africa that sharpened my taste... for the little, the almost nothing, and especially, in my art, for the landscapes where one finds only the formless’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards An Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 9).

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