During the 1950s, much of the focus in Jean Dubuffet's work, was on textures and surfaces. La robe à boutons ('The Dress with Buttons'), painted in 1961, dates from a period, when he turned from his textured abstractions back to a gleeful figuration. The earthiness of his earlier works is here discarded, the abstraction replaced by the image of the dress, which takes the viewer's focus. The girl, has reduced facial features - eyes, mouth and nose - which seem to echo the shape of the buttons of the title.
The image itself is joyous. This was in a large part due to his return to Paris in 1961. There, he found that the city that had seemed so down-trodden and depressing when he had left it years before was now a fun-filled, bustling metropolis. This cosmopolitan energy directly found form in Dubuffet's Paris Circus series, started that year.
The works from 1961 were in deliberate contrast to the preceding output: 'In reaction against this absenteeist tendency my paintings of this year put into play in all respects a very different intervention. The presence in them of the painter now is constant, even exaggerated. They are full of personages, and this time their role is played with spirit. I feel a need that every work of art should in the highest degree lift one out of context, provoking a surprise and shock. A painting does not work for me if it is not completely unexpected. Hence my new concern, which at least gives me the satisfaction of being taken to a territory where no one else has been.' (Quoted in P. Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 165.)