Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Nature morte au passeport

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Nature morte au passeport
oil on canvas
38 1/4 x 51 1/4in. (97 x 130cm.)
Painted in 1953
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Mrs Albert A. List, Greenwich, Connecticut
Waddington Galleries Ltd, London
Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fasc. VIII, Lieux momentanés, pâtes battues, Lausanne 1967, no. 61 (illustrated p. 56).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, February-April 1962 (illustrated in colour p. 79). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, May-June 1962, and Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July-August 1962.

Lot Essay

Still-life with Passport is an important example from a series of paintings dubbed by Dubuffet Pâtes Battues (Beaten Pastes), which he produced in the spring of 1953. Stylistically this work, painted according to the artist's studio diary, on the 9th and 10th of May, is one of the most striking of the new series, but in its subject matter it refers back to the series known as "Landscaped Tables" of the previous year.

Dubuffet, always fascinated by the textures and the accidental marks that are made through the actions of everyday life on household items such as doors, floors and table tops, had sought to represent the scarred surface of a table as an alternative but equally valid landscape subject. His "Landscaped Tables," he said, "respond to the idea that, just like a bit of land, any place in the world (especially if it relates to an object so inseperable and so cherished a companion as is a man's own table) is peopled with a swarm of facts, and not only those which belong to the life of the table itself, but also mixing with them, others which inhabit the thought of man, and which he impresses on the table by looking at it. I am convinced that any table can be for each of us a landscape as inexhaustible as the whole Andes range; and for this reason - every place, for my eyes, being equal to every other - I see little use in travelling. I must say I have all my life always loved tables." (By Jean Dubuffet - translated by the artist and Marcel Duchamp, published by the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1952)

The Pâtes Battues of 1953 primarily differ from the works of the two years before in the nature of the paste that Dubuffet uses as a ground. Smoother and more pliant, Dubuffet found that this new mixture blended with his colours and lent itself to being scraped and played. Exciting hieroglyphic and graffiti-like images emerged almost unconsciously from the material, shimmering over its surface. The "hasty, loose and very abbreviated manner of transcription", he observed, "affords me a persistent pleasure which I am still unable to explain. Perhaps it is because the objects thus transcribed in hasty strokes succeed for that very reason in constituting a system of signs, a kind of hieroglyphics, very much like rapid, almost automatic writing. The result is a transference from the physical world onto a semi-ideological plane - that of writing - being first very de-corporealised, then re-corporealised later by means of the materials used (thick pastes spread on with big tools). It is as though in a kind of loop-the-loop, the picture made you see at one and the same time all the objects stripped of their flesh and refleshed again with a concentrate of matter no longer appropriate to each seperately but borrowed from some more general and indeterminate register and thrown over them all indiscriminately." (From Pâtes Battues (Beaten Pastes) March 1953 and the following months". cited in "Memoir of My Work from 1952" reproduced in The Work of Jean Dubuffet by Peter Selz, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1962, pp.77-83)

In his Pâtes Battues Dubuffet became increasingly concerned with this new way of delineating objects so that they would be perceived in unusual and surprising ways. "In all my works," he wrote at the time, "I have always had recourse to one never varying method. It consists in making the delineation of the objects represented heavily dependent on a system of necessities which itself looks strange. In a word, it is always a matter of giving the person who is looking at the picture a startling impression that a weird logic has directed the painting of it, a logic to which the delineation of every object is subjected, even sacrificed, in such a peremptory way that, curiously enough, it forces the most unexpected solutions and, in spite of the obstacles it creates, brings out the desired figuration. I have the impression that the world of objects thus subjected to an extraneous and peculiar logic, appears in an entirely new and unexpected light so that one sees it with new eyes." (Ibid)

In Still-life with Passport Dubuffet depicts his own table as a new landscape populated by hieroglyphic-type images of various household items, along with a scrawled receipt for two thousand francs, a draw for two thousand five hundred francs against a cheque and a passport. The writing on all these is scratched into the surface of the painting in the same way in which Dubuffet has delineated the outline of the table and the jugs and pots. In this way Dubuffet is both emphasising and referring to the tendency of the material quality of the painting to lend itself to this scribbled technique. Letting the material speak for itself, he creates a remarkably warm and spontaneous image of his domestic life.

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