“No artist anywhere has ever been as popular in his lifetime as Buffet…his work was seen and recognized around the world. Today, we could compare him to Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami, but neither has achieved Buffet’s universal popularity.” (F. Hergott, quoted in N. Lankarani, ‘Buffet: A Life of Success, Rejection and Now a Celebration’, New York Times, 20 October 2016).
Starting his career in 1943 at the prodigious age of 16, Bernard Buffet enrolled at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. Then, following his first solo exhibition in 1947, one of his paintings was bought by the Musée National d'Art Moderne making him the youngest artist ever to have his work acquired by the French State. The distinctive style of Buffet's works gained him wide acclaim and from the early 1950s onwards, he became a regular and important presence in the Parisian and international art scene. Along with his artistic success came the dizzying heights of fame and a glamourous social circle consisting of Yves Saint Laurent, Françoise Sagan, Johnny Hallyday, Brigitte Bardot, and more.
His meteoric rise to fame was cemented in 1955 by the art review Connaissance des Arts, which declared him the greatest Post-War artist in France. In 1971, the French State awarded him the Légion d'Honneur, and only a few years later he was elected to join the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Despite having an incredibly charged relationship with critics, one that often left the artist’s reputation at the mercy of their whims, Buffet has succeeded in creating a legacy of being one of the most popular French painters in history. Even arguably the most well-known artist of our time, Andy Warhol, declared his admiration for Buffet: “The French do really have one good painter, Buffet”.
Buffet’s cityscape subjects are all the more poignant in being painted after the destruction of so many major European cities during the Second World War. In this Post-War context, the artist’s strong calligraphic brushstrokes and dramatic black outlines seem to defy this previous violence and stand in direct disobedience of the gloomy grey atmosphere that surrounds them. Bernard Buffet’s oeuvre also contains compelling pictures of sites such as the Twin Towers, the Eiffel Tower, and the Doges Palace so it is no surprise he was also drawn to the historicism and integrity of the Tower of London. Within ‘La Tour de Londres’ the artist has emphasized the sheer solidity and durability of the English landmark by contrasting it’s strength with the delicate branches of the spindly trees that surround it.