Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Trois femmes nues au bois (Three nude women in the woods)

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Trois femmes nues au bois (Three nude women in the woods)
signed, dated and inscribed ‘J Dubuffet 28 x 42 Pâcques 44’ (lower left)
gouache on board
25 5/8 x 18 ½in. (65 x 47cm.)
Executed in October 1942
Georges Limbour Collection, Paris (a gift from the artist in 1944).
Estate of Georges Limbour.
Private Collection, Paris.
Anon. sale, Cornette de Saint-Cyr, 11 June 1990, lot 61.
Galerie K, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Private Collection, Paris.
Anon. sale, Vente Tajan, 13 December 1995, lot 74.
Galerie Pascal Lansberg, Paris.
Waddington Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by Jeremy Lancaster, 16 July 1996.
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Marionnettes de la ville et de la campagne, fascicule I, Paris 1966, pp. 245 & 251, no. 16 (illustrated, p. 33).
Paris, Galerie Pascal Lansberg, Jean Dubuffet, 1996, pp. 2 & 4 (illustrated in colour, p. 5).
Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (on long term loan).
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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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Created in 1942 – the seminal year that Jean Dubuffet decided to devote his life to art – Trois femmes nues au bois (Three nude women in the woods) is a visionary early gouache that captures the birth of his practice. The sixteenth work documented in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, it belongs to the inaugural series of female nudes with which he took his first steps into the art world. Working in Nazi-occupied Paris during the Second World War, Dubuffet sought an art that made a total break with tradition. This quest sparked an enduring fascination with what he termed ‘art brut’: namely, imagery produced outside the confines of Western schooling, including pictures by children, patients in mental health institutions and remote tribal cultures. Throughout his career, which culminated in the 1960s with his groundbreaking cycles Paris Circus and l’Hourloupe, Dubuffet sought to infuse his practice with these lessons, embracing intuitive draughtsmanship, exaggerated forms and rudimentary palettes. Stripped bare before the viewer, the three naked protagonists of the present work emerge from the primordial forest like prophets of this new style, their gaze raw and direct. For forty-six years, the work was held in the collection of Dubuffet’s great friend Georges Limbour: a Surrealist poet who was one of the artist’s most important early champions. It was acquired by Jeremy Lancaster in 1996, and was subsequently exhibited at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The story of Dubuffet’s early rise to acclaim owes much to his friendship with Limbour. The two had been close since childhood, having attended the Lycée François 1er in Le Havre from 1908, and would become key supporters of one another’s work. It was Limbour who accompanied Dubuffet to the Académie Julien in Paris in 1918, where the latter made his first tentative bid to become an artist. Over the next twenty years, Dubuffet would attempt to renew this ambition on various occasions, but each time found himself drawn back to his family’s wine business. It was not until 1942, in the midst of war, that he vowed once and for all to dedicate himself to his true passion. Once again, Limbour proved instrumental, producing the first pieces of writing on Dubuffet’s work and introducing him to important members of the Parisian art world. Chief among these was Jean Paulhan, former editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française, who Limbour invited to the artist’s studio. Through Paulhan, Dubuffet met the gallerist René Drouin, with whom he mounted his now-legendary first solo exhibition in 1944. The show sparked controversy in the press, yet Limbour was quick to defend the artist’s work, hailing a revolutionary new approach that ‘inflames the imagination, is invigorating and dazzling’ (G. Limbour, quoted in Comoedia, Paris, 8 July 1944). Over time, this sentiment would come to define critical commentary on the artist. The present work, gifted to Limbour that year, stands as a testament to the friendship, camaraderie and shared aesthetic vision that helped to launch one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary artistic practices.

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