Théâtres de Mémoire: Jean Dubuffet’s Last Decades

Senior Advisor Hugues Joffre explores how Jean Dubuffet's long, dramatically evolving career was like a rhythmic cycle, constantly reintroducing themes from earlier chapters in his life.

Senior Advisor Hugues Joffre explores how Jean Dubuffet's long, dramatically evolving career was like a rhythmic cycle, constantly reintroducing themes from earlier chapters in his life.

Jean Dubuffet, La féconde journée, 1976. Estimate £1,500,000 — 2,000,000.

Written by Hugues Joffre 

 

Jean Dubuffet had a long career, dotted with sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic stylistic progressions. Yet, as he gestured towards each new aesthetic development, he would at the same time reintroduce themes or aesthetics that had defined his earlier work. In this sense, his oeuvre as a whole became like a rhythmic cycle, where each renewal was marked by a consideration of former artistic explorations. This self-referential quality in Dubuffet’s oeuvre, can equally be found in the work of Pablo Picasso, whose extended artistic practice and life similarly allowed him to reconsider multiple chapters of his own production. One may think, for example, of the Spanish artist’s venture into sculpture and ceramics, which saw him looking at classical subjects again—Greek themes and subjects which he had outgrown in painting. Dubuffet did this too — he would move forward and look back, look back and move forward. In doing so, he built a dialogue between past and future, creating an entirely novel sense of temporality—ultimately very self-referential.

Like Henri Matisse before him, Dubuffet would ambitiously reassess his core artistic principles.

In 1961, Dubuffet returned to Paris after having spent several years in the countryside. Upon returning to the city, he began to experience a joie de vivre that had perhaps withered during his time away, and initiated his breakthrough Paris Circus series, which largely explored the idea of micro-organisms in the form of minuscule, multiplying personnages. Until the end of his life, he continually engaged with this theme, yet it was with the Théâtres de mémoire series—one of his last, begun in September 1975—in which he would truly invigorate his now widely recognizable and iconic aesthetic, propelling it to unprecedented grandeur. With the Théâtres de mémoire works, Dubuffet used his same microscopic vision of figuration-meets-abstraction, yet did so with collage—a method that was more manageable to him at the age of seventy. These late collages differed from those he had produced in the mid-to-late 1950s, as Dubuffet veered away from the use of paper and towards the use of canvas. In this sense, the Théâtres de mémoire series represented a more mature formulation of something he had already explored; a desire to look back and take note of the past, as a sort of testament to his accomplished and nearly finalized oeuvre.

Dubuffet’s 'Théâtres de mémoire' have become tokens of his visionary and resilient mind: in essence, monumental gems to behold.


Between the mid-1970s and the early 1960s thus exists a dialogue of sorts: between a newly revitalized Dubuffet, whose return to Paris at the outset of the 1960s had spurred an artistic revelation, and a more mature Dubuffet, considering earlier artistic formulations and building upon them with a honed, ever-more enterprising eye. The act of modernizing his own artistic precedent with his Théâtres de mémoire represented a discreet if powerful apotheosis. Like Henri Matisse before him, Dubuffet would ambitiously reassess his core artistic principles with a technique that was manageable to him, at a time when his body was becoming increasingly frail. Extremely rare on the market, Dubuffet’s Théâtres de mémoire have become tokens of his visionary and resilient mind: in essence, monumental gems to behold.

 

 

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First Reveal: Dubuffet’s ‘La féconde journée’ | London | April 2021

 

 

David Norman, Chairman of the Americas, guides us through his first encounter with the raw expression of Jean Dubuffet’s 1976 work ‘La féconde journée.’ Conjuring a dizzying frenzy of metropolitan intensity, ‘La féconde journée’ combines astute composition with visceral impulse to create an uncompromising controlled explosion.

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