JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
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JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)

Paysage Gris aux Taches Cerises(Gray Landscape with Cherry Spots)

JEAN DUBUFFET (1901-1985)
Paysage Gris aux Taches Cerises
(Gray Landscape with Cherry Spots)
signed and dated ‘J. Dubuffet 49’ (upper left);
signed and dated again ‘J. Dubuffet 49’ (on the reverse)
oil on burlap
89.3 x 116.5 cm. (35 1⁄8 x 45 7⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1949
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Private Collection, New York
Sotheby’s Paris, 6 June 2017, lot 6
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule V: Paysages grotesques, Lausanne, 1965 (illustrated, no. 61, p. 42).
Pierre Matisse Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: the early years 1943 to 1959; an exhibition of paintings by Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., New York, 1978 (illustrated, no. 15, unpaged).
Palais des Papes, Dubuffet: Hauts lieux: paysages 1944-1984, exh. cat., Avignon, 1994 (illustrated, p. 40).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: the early years 1943 to 1959; an exhibition of paintings by Jean Dubuffet, 9 May - 3 June 1978.
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Dubuffet: Hauts lieux: paysages 1944-1984, 30 June - 2 October 1994.
Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve, Jean Dubuffet: Bilder 1943-1955, 29 January - 29 March 1999.
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Lot Essay

In his foreward to the Fascicule V of the catalogue of Jean Dubuffet’s work: Paysages grotesques, Max Loreau wrote: ‘In general, the landscape is an opportunity to rest; it is what transforms a continuity into a succession of moments, into fixation. Here, on the contrary, the landscape is a journey in itself: no longer a haven where we anchor but intoxication of the mind, energy in fusion, and not immobilizing concentration. Ultimately, these meticulous sites invite us on a journey with no landscape.’ Paysage Gris aux Taches Cerises (Gray Landscape with Cherry Spots) is an exceptional early example of Jean Dubuffet’s Paysages grotesques and takes us on a raw and intricate journey into the core of earth. Executed in 1949, shortly after the artist’s return from his third and final trip to the Sahara, this painting extends the revolutionary cycle of works inspired by his time in the Algerian desert. Far from the constraints of Western civilization and tradition, the white sands of Africa and their nomadic inhabitants had a profound impact on Dubuffet’s practice. His nascent interest in uncultivated, unprocessed visual languages – a phenomenon he defined as art brut – was amplified by his engagement with the sprawling dunes and the tribal rituals of the Bedouin people.

Figures and architectural structures occupy the canvas, carved into thick layers of paint like ancient graffiti upon a weathered rockface. A vast terrain of mysterious marks hovers in and out of focus, losing any traditional sense of spatial dimensionality with primal, rhythmic energy. The surface of the painting offers a large array of textures and depth, and the multi-peaked dunes along the upper edge shape the scene: the active figures are buried inside with a primordial earthy power like a prehistoric remains. Figures of human beings have become symbols of elemental wisdom that embody the primeval relationship between man and nature. In the Paysages grotesques series, Dubuffet magnified this notion by applying a layer of light-coloured impasto over a dark ground, creating literal geological strata from which his figures could be excavated. The gesticulating characters of his desertinspired paintings morphed into strange, balloon-like beings, imbued with childlike naivety and pastoral innocence. Devoid of perspective and proportion, their unwieldy forms predate the landmark Corps de dames series created the following year, as well as the bucolic tableaus Dubuffet would produce during his self-imposed exile to rural Vence in the mid-1950s.

Dubuffet and his wife Lili made their first trip to the small oasis of El Goléa in February 1947. Driven to its warmer climes by coal restrictions during a freezing Parisian winter, they returned periodically over the next two years. In the dreary aftermath of the Second World War, the Sahara offered Dubuffet ‘a bath of simplicity’ – an opportunity to escape the confines of historical tradition and strip back his art to its most embryonic form. Writing to Jacques Berne after his first 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.’ For Dubuffet, who had spent the past few years observing the art of children, psychics and mental health patients in a bid to liberate his hand from the teachings of the Western culture, the unfettered forms of representation he encountered in the Sahara resonated deeply with his aesthetic ambitions. In particular, it was the fluid tactility of sand – its ability to conjure forms and dissolve into nothing in the blink of an eye – that had the greatest impact on his artistic outlook. In the infinite, everchanging spaces of the deserted Saharan landscape, the mind was free to roam: to expand, to digress and to reinvent itself. In a world that bore the recent, all-too-painful scars of war, its wide-open planes offered an opportunity for spiritual rebirth: to celebrate mankind anew as a primal source of knowledge and power.

Dominating the artist’s oeuvre between May 1949 and January 1950, his Paysages grotesques evolved directly from Dubuffet’s desert paintings. Etched into layers of pigment like fossilised traces, his figures extended the corrosive graphic language of lacerations and incisions that had defined this previous body of work, informed by his experiments with engraving and lithography during the early 1940s. By making physical matter the primary subject of his work, Dubuffet came to understand figure and landscape as two sides of the same coin: a conviction that would go on to inspire the billowing carnal topographies of his Corps de dames. In Paysage Gris aux Taches Cerises (Gray Landscape with Cherry Spots), the human figure merges with its surrounding, almost disappears to become a full component of the landscape itself. Rarely offered at auction, and for the first time in Asia, his Paysage grostesque series is the key that unlocked Dubuffet’s deep exploration and definition of Art Brut.

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