Paysage avec gros arbres et lune is one of the fourteen gouaches, each 31 x 24 cm., that comprise Dubuffet's series, Paysages Fériques, executed in 1946, on his return from a short holiday with his wife Lili. The landscape of the Hautes-Alpes region, where he had stayed, clearly inspired the artist, and this group of fifteen 'fairy' or 'magical landscapes' is an enchanting testimony to his experiences there. Paysage avec gros arbre et lune is filled with joy, with a pastoral contentedness that is best seen in the smiling features of the characters depicted. The countryside was a constant source of fascination for Dubuffet, and he would return again and again to it as a theme. The seemingly simple worlds of nature and agriculture were a link to a simpler age, and unlike the cities sometimes appeared less scathed by the ravages of the Occupation and the Second World War. At the same time, with its intense vitality, its scrawled energy and its dark background, Paysage avec gros arbre et lune is very much a product of the new post-war world, and is the result of Dubuffet's search for a pictorial idiom that would be honest, and not barbaric, in the wake of global conflict.
The link between man and nature, and the environment, and the Earth was of great importance to Dubuffet, and in Paysage avec gros arbre et lune he has made this explicit by depicting the features of the landscape and the people in chalk-like lines which cut their way through the dark, earthy gouache background. The surface of this work is itself like the soil upon which, and upon the produce of which, these subjects live, a point that is underlined by the presence of a vegetable patch in the bottom right. The fact that Dubuffet had found his inspiration in the Alps emphasises the importance of these sustaining products within the rugged terrain. At the same time, it provides an early pictorial justification for the skew perspective that he used to place figures in a landscape in his country-themed paintings: the wall of mountains and cliffs, with little sky visible above their summits, echoed in reality the dominant child-like division of space and sky that features in his pictures on this theme. The sky is limited to a peek of light at the top of Paysage avec gros arbre et lune, highlighting the absolute absorption of the people within their world. The appearance of the figures here, presented as though upon a flattened map of their own world, completes this sense of their integration within it.
Dubuffet himself made a conscious effort to cleanse himself of cultural givens, to forget his own training and erudition and to look once more upon the world with fresh eyes and fresh vision. He sought to make an electric art that could jolt the viewer into a better understanding of the world, that could be fun, that could be real. The intensity of madness was a means that allowed him to pursue this goal, that allowed him to translate his wondrous vision of the world to the viewer, to share the liberating vision of insanity:
"There is no art without intoxication. But I mean a mad intoxication! Let reason teeter! Delirium! The highest degree of delirium! Plunged in burning dementia! Art is the most enrapturing orgy within man's reach...Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it doesn't bore" (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings Sculptures Assemblages, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 8).
Paysage avec gros arbre et lune is filled with this intoxication. There is an innocence in the vision, a deceptive simplicity to the view of this bucolic world. The various items in this landscape are filled with a momentous, almost totemic importance, with arcane and personal significance, recalling in a sense the intimate and introspective world of whimsy of Joan Miró. Yet Dubuffet has managed to create a picture that communicates, that shares: looking at this picture, we recognise trees and figures of our own acquaintance, we react in our own personal way to this landscape.