Christie's is pleased to offer from a Distinguished New York Collection Jean Dubuffet's La chaise from the artist's classic L'hourloupe series. Works from this collection are to be sold in multiple sale venues at Christie's this fall season, including the New York Impressionist and Modern Art, Post-War and Contemporary Art, and Latin American Art Evening sales. Leading the sales is the surrealist painting Les verrés fumes by René Magritte which is to be included in the New York Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale on 7th November. Alongside it will be incredible works in the various day sales by Henry Moore, Fernand Léger, Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, Alexander Calder and Gerhard Richter, in addition to a distinguished work by Pablo Picasso, whose unique ceramic vase featuring four full panel images of owls titled Grande vase carré hibou is stunning in its large scale presence. For this collector, Picasso is absolute; the root from which everything else emanates and evolves-an undeniable influence. Before anything was or is added into the collection it has to be judged worthy of hanging alongside works by the Spanish master. The works on offer are but a sliver of the incredible collection passionately assembled over the last fifty years by collectors with unique vision, understanding and appreciation of a diverse range of artistic movements.
Described by Jean Dubuffet as a "fair of mirages" the figures and objects of his Hourloupe series appear almost as quickly as they are lost within the planes of blue and red hatched forms. One of his largest canvases from 1964, La Chaise dates from an exciting period that would flourish to become the artist's signature style. The chair, locked within a jigsaw of amorphous cells, serves as an important catalyst to what would result in a subseries of Hourloupe paintings, which together could comprise a catalogue of the dècor of industry and artifact, and yet La Chaise would remain the only chair painted by the artist. Once belonging to the prominent Chicago art collector, Arnold H. Maremont, La Chaise was subsequently housed among the 20th century masterpieces of the Milton D. Ratner collection. Ratner, a great connoisseur of Giacometti and admirer of Picasso, stated of Dubuffet, "As far as I know, he is the only major artist of our time to successfully move with such ease between abstract and figurative art" (M. Ratner, quoted in A. Tishler, (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Materiologies et Texturologies from the Milton D.Ratner Family Collection, exh. cat., New Jersey, 1977, n.p.).
Entangled within the contours and diagonals on the canvas, Dubuffet's chair is discernable at the center of the composition, composed of a cluster of white cells with blue and red hatch marks. In an effort similar to Picasso and Braque's Cubist techniques, Dubuffet aims to explore multiple facets of the chair simultaneously. The chair, has lost all relief to the distorting that persists within the image. Compressed against the background, as if painted by a hydraulic press, Dubuffet paints the third-dimension as it is likely to appear in crushed or flattened bodies, or as depicted with strict accuracy in the diagrams of descriptive geometry. A series of elongated, slender black shapes with thin white streaks dash around the outline of the flattened figure. The deep, receding color of these cells, as well as their outward pointing strokes, give the viewer merely a memory of the depth that would once have existed in the composition. To the right, a second smaller chair, cropped by the frame, is sealed in the canvas. Surrounding the chairs, a vast interlocking puzzle of nebulous shapes circle the figures.
For Dubuffet, the objective was neither figuration, nor pure abstraction, but a unique balance between the two. He described his Hourloupe paintings as "a meandering, uninterrupted and resolutely uniform line, which brings all planes to the surface and takes no account of the concrete quality of the object described, its size and position but, rather, abolishes all the usual categories of one notion and another, of the notion of chair, for instance, as distinct from that of tree, person, cloud, earth, landscape, or what you will" (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 223). With the use of the most rudimentary lines and shapes, the Hourloupe dissolves the simplistic values that we attribute to the world around us.
Having earlier looked for inspiration in Art Brut, in the drawings of children and the mentally ill, it appears logical that Dubuffet would have allowed himself to be inspired by his own drawings, as in the case of the Hourloupe. This fantastically energetic, frenetic style was the result of an accidental discovery, as was recounted by Max Loreau in the fascicule of the catalogue raisonné devoted to these works, published only two years after La Chaise was created. Over the course of a series of phone calls in July 1962, "Dubuffet let his red ball-point pen wander aimlessly over some small pieces of paper, and out of these doodles emerged a number of semiautomatic drawings, which he struck through with red and blue lines. The painter cut out these as yet undetermined compositions and quickly observed that they changed aspect as soon as they were placed against a black background" (M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet:, fascicule XX: L'Hurloupe 1, Paris, 1966, p. 15).
And thus, Dubuffet developed Hourloupe between the summer of 1962 and the autumn of 1974, a period that marked a decisive turn away from the conventions of contemporary painting, establishing a novel vernacular in celebration of the objects of everyday life. Characterized by white, black, blue and red cell-like shapes, as well as hatchings, the script of these works defined a new pictorial style initially used to represent human figures but later employed to depict domestic objects such as chairs, beds, faucets, scissors, teapots, and lamps.
In 1965, the year Dubuffet painted La Chaise, the artist developed a series of industrial objects, which he called Ustensiles Utopiques. Unlike the all over composition of La Chaise, where the figure is half-concealed in the hard jigsaw patterning, the objects in Ustensiles Utopiques have been liberated from their background and placed on a black backdrop. Realizing the importance of the use of objects as a material in modern art, as a reaction against older still-lifes, Dubuffet's attention to manufactured utensils and dècor extended beyond his paintings of the chair, scissors and wheelbarrows into his grand Hourloupe sculptures, often times liberating the chair back into the third-dimension. The empty chair, often seen as the personification of its owner, has been examined by artists like Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. Here Dubuffet reconsiders the archetypal subject through the dissecting lens of his celebrated Hourloupe style. La Chaise serves as an intriguing early example of what would develop into not only Dubuffet's most important style, but also one of his most well-known subjects.