Corps de dame, la rose incarnate

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  • Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
    Alfonso Ossorio, New York
    Robert Elkon Gallery, New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Harry W. Anderson, Atherton
    Galerie Beyeler, Basel
    Phyllis Hattis Fine Arts, New York
    Caral Gimbel Lebworth Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1997)
    Sold: Christie's, New York, May 13, 2009, lot 36
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by Jean Dubuffet, January 9 - February 3, 1951, no. 10 (illustrated)
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Retrospective Dubuffet: 1943-1959, November 10 - December 12, 1959
    Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Jean Dubuffet: Retrospective, December 16, 1960 - February 25, 1961, no. 69, pl. 31 (illustrated)
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, February 19 - August 12, 1962, p. 47 (illustrated)
    London, Tate Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, April 23 - May 30, 1966 no. 37, p. 30 (illustrated)
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Jean Dubuffet, June 11 - August 28, 1966, no. 29 (illustrated)
    New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, New Acquisitions, September 27 - October 29, 1969, no. 6 (illustrated)
    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages, June 16 - September 12, 1993, no. 31, p. 75 (illustrated)
    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Surrealismus: Traum des Jahrhunderts, October, 1995 - March, 1996, no. 27
    Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, L'autre Collection: Hommage à Ernst et Hildy Beyeler, August 19, 2007 - January 6, 2008
    Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Métamorphoses du Paysage, January 31 - May 8, 2016, p. 57 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    James Fitzsimmons, "Jean Dubuffet: A Short Introduction to His Work", in Quadrum, no. 4, Brussels, 1957, p. 35 (illustrated)
    Jean Dubuffet, "My Bewitched Hand", in WFMT Perspective, Chicago, April 1962, p. 46 (illustrated)
    Lorenza Trucchi, Jean Dubuffet, Rome, 1965, no. 95, p. 134 (illustrated)
    Marta Traba, Los cuatros monstrous cardinales, Mexico, 1965, n.p. (illustrated)
    Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Corps de dames, fascicule VI, Paris, 1965, no. 100, p. 74 (illustrated)
    Aleksa Celebonovic, "L'oeuvre de Jean Dubuffet et l'art brut comme aspects de separation complete entre l'expression artistique et la tradition", in Umetnost, no. 8, Belgrade, October-December, 1966, p. 18 (illustrated)
    Asger Jorn, "Nogle iagttagelser angaende faenomenet Jean Dubuffet", in Konstrevy, no. 1, Stockholm, 1967, p. 26 (illustrated)
    François Gagnon, "Symboliques des Corps de dame de Jean Dubuffet", in Problèmes d'analyses symbolique, Montreal, 1972

  • Catalogue Essay

    "[The] female body, of all the objects in the world, is the one that has long been associated (for Occidentals) with a very specious notion of beauty (inherited from the Greeks and cultivated by the magazine covers); now it pleases me to protest against this aesthetic, which I find miserable and most depressing. Surely I aim for a beauty, but not that one. The idea that there are beautiful objects and ugly objects, people endowed with beauty and others who cannot claim it, has surely no other foundation than convention - old poppycock - and I declare that convention unhealthy."
    Jean Dubuffet

    Of all the series of Jean Dubuffet’s works, the Corps de dames have attracted the most attention and acclaim. Painted in 1950, Corps de dame, La rose incarnate is one of the early pictures from this series of thirty-three, over half of which are now in museum collections—and over half of those still privately owned are in the United States. La rose incarnate perfectly demonstrates the energy, wit and iconoclasm that led to the success of this series—and to its special success in America. This picture forms a part of the narrative of the development of art in the post-war era, having been owned by the artist and collector Alfonso Ossorio, one of Dubuffet’s friends. On the walls of Ossorio’s homes, La rose incarnate hung alongside Dubuffet’s cherished collection of Art Brut, and also works by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still.

    Dubuffet pinned his colours to the mast with his title in La rose incarnate, which allows the artist to play with language in his customary way. "Rose" can refer both to the color and to the flower—and indeed, Dubuffet has presented the woman’s genitals in a manner that resembles a rose, with its pink petals scrawled into the surface. Meanwhile, the word incarnate in French indicates a color, a type of pink or crimson, while also playing with the notion of incarnation. After all, this is the "rose made flesh. The warm colors of the composition ensure that the viewer is made aware of the focus on flesh, on life. Dubuffet has channelled some of the energy that he found so fascinating in so-called "primitive" cultures, in ancient art, tribal art and the art of the insane, into creating his own earthen goddess. La rose incarnate is filled with a sense of fecundity reminiscent of prehistoric sculptures like the Venus of Laussel or that of Willendorf, or even the cow-eyed deity Hera of the ancient Greeks. Dubuffet would discuss his notion of bringing a new sense of religiosity to contemporary existence:

    "I have liked to carry the human image onto a plane of seriousness where the futile embellishments of aesthetics have no longer any place, onto a plane of high ceremony, of solemn office of celebration by helping myself with what Joseph Conrad calls: 'a mixture of familiarity and terror,' out of which the devotion is made which many religious minds offer to their gods and which does not, at times, exclude the use of swear words directed at them."

    Those words were written about Dubuffet’s later Barbes, a series that focussed on menhir-like men, yet discuss a process that can be traced through many of his figurative works, from his early Portraits, which were such an assault on the genre of portraiture, through the Corps de dames and thence to the beards. In his Corps de dames, Dubuffet was introducing a fresh sense of perspective to the all-too-hallowed subject not only of woman, but crucially of the nude. Looking at La rose incarnate, this is clear to see: the notion of the smooth skin of the Salon painters of nineteenth-century Paris has been banished. Instead, there is a vivid, expressionistic fervour to the depiction, emphasised by the impasto from which the entire picture surface seems to be built. One of the sister-works in this series, also from 1950, was entitled Olympia. This was a playful yet weighty jibe: where Edouard Manet’s picture of the same title had caused scandal a century earlier, Dubuffet’s own version takes the subject of the nude and nakedness to whole new levels. Rather than merely observing his subject, Dubuffet sought to capture some of its essence, to add an experiential dimension. After all, as he explained,

    "Nothing seems to me more false, more stupid, than the way students in an art class are placed in front of a completely nude woman standing motionless on a table, and stare at her for hours. The normal conditions under which a man has seen unclothed bodies are thus disregarded in a perfectly insane fashion, and insane too is the idea that under such conditions anyone could possibly reconstruct anything resembling the image of a naked woman as it exists normally in an ordinary man’s memory." (Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963: Paintings Sculptures Assemblages, exh.cat., Washington DC, 1993, p. 74)

    In La rose incarnate, Dubuffet presents the body of the woman as a flattened, absorbing landscape. The picture is over a metre tall, meaning that its composition, with the legs and head passing beyond the bounds of the canvas, approaches some sense of life-size. Her width allows her to envelop her viewer. Meanwhile, the focus within this landscape-body is clearly on the landmarks of her physicality: the breasts and her sexual organs, which deliberately evoke the "rose" of the title. It is the latter that draws particular attention: the dark space between the woman’s legs serves as an arrow drawing the viewer’s gaze upwards towards the point at which they join, while the pubic area have been incised in the surface in a manner that resembles the titular rose, with a vertical slash representing the stem underneath the vigorous scrawl that crowns it, which itself serves as a surrogate target. By contrast, the smaller, fainter concentric circles that represent the breasts are a relative afterthought.

    In La rose incarnate, Dubuffet uses these techniques to invoke the idea of a specific personality—or body—as well as the notion of womanhood in general. "What I liked doing was […] to place brutally side by side in these female bodies the highly general and the highly particular, the highly subjective and the highly objective, the metaphysical and grotesque triviality’ (Jean Dubuffet quoted in R. Bouvier (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, exh. cat., Basel, 2016, p. 54). While the head that crests this fecund body appears small, an afterthought in comparison to the corporeality of the torso, it nonetheless bears the traces of portraiture, of a specific personality. Indeed, the face is imbued with a contented gaze that arrests the viewer, a generous mouth just below.

    It was doubtless in part because of facial expressions such as this that La rose incarnate and the other paintings from the series that were shown at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in January the following year prompted the art critic Stuart Preston to write in the New York Times:

    "There should be no difficulty enjoying Dubuffet’s new paintings at Pierre Matisse. Outrageous, but brilliantly effective, these figure studies might be entitled 'the good humoured ladies,' so delighted do the subjects appear with their treatment. Looked at as illustrations the results are very funny, even occasionally witty. One suspects that the artist has his tongue in his cheek almost as often as he has his fingers fussing with the medium." (Stuart Preston, "Currents of Today", New York Times, January 15, 1951)

    At the time that the first Corps de dames were shown in New York, Dubuffet’s works were enjoying a warmer reception there than in his native France, especially since the closure of the Galerie René Drouin, which had championed him. This is reflected in the fact that so many of these paintings have now entered American museums and private collections. La rose incarnate was itself bought from Matisse by Ossorio, a fellow artist. Born in the Philippines and educated in England, Ossorio had become one of the key figures in the post-war art scene in New York—his knowledge and talent allowed him to compete with his contemporaries, while his wealth allowed him to collect them. It was at Ossorio’s home in the Hamptons that Dubuffet’s collection of Art Brut would hang for around a decade, alongside masterpieces by a number of the Abstract Expressionists.

    The friendship between Dubuffet and Ossorio was at times troubled, but was nonetheless fervent. Dubuffet was the main reason for Ossorio’s move to Paris in the early 1950s, and the two artists came to know each other well during that period. It was also through Ossorio’s devices that Dubuffet was lured to the United States later in 1951, coming into contact with a number of the leading figures of the day. Some of these he met in unfavourable circumstances: staying in an apartment within the building Ossorio had in Manhattan, while construction continued in the Hamptons, Dubuffet’s evening was interrupted by a visit from his host with Jackson Pollock in tow (see Jean Dubuffet, Biographie au pas de course, Paris, 2001, pp. 59-63).

    The cross-currents between Dubuffet’s works and those of his American contemporaries were at their highpoint during this period. Looking at the surface of La rose incarnate, one can see the intense craft and patterning, the deployment of unusual techniques, the scraping and building of the surface, that recall Pollock’s works. Discussing the Corps de dames, Dubuffet talked in tones that recollect the involvement of chance and hazard in some of the works of the Action Painters of the time, describing flaws "which I am inclined to leave in my paintings, for example, the accidental blotches, clumsy blunders, forms that are frankly wrong, anti-real, colors that are unwelcome, inappropriate, all things that would probably seem insufferable to certain people. They even make me a little uneasy because, in many cases, they destroy the effect. But this uneasiness I voluntarily sustain, for it keeps the painter’s hand ever present in the painting and prevents the object from dominating and from things taking shape too clearly." (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in The Works of Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, p. 48)

    Crucially, in addressing the theme of the woman using these techniques, Dubuffet was also working in unwitting parallel with Willem de Kooning, the Dutch-born artist who had become one of the stalwarts of Abstract Expressionism. It was during this time that De Kooning was working on Woman I, which he only completed in 1952. Like Dubuffet, he would create a number of pictures in the series, using abstract means to create a figurative image that nonetheless pared back all the layers of cosmetic beauty that had been accreted over the previous millennia and which were tied so profoundly into notions of classical beauty. The parallels between Dubuffet’s works and those of De Kooning were clearly recognised by collectors: Harry W. Anderson, the California businessman and prominent philanthropist who later owned La rose incarnate also had another of De Kooning’s paintings from the series, Woman Standing—Pink of 1954-55. That work is now part of the Anderson Collection which he and his wife Mary donated to Stanford University, and which also featured a range of post-war American artists including Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Pollock and Clyfford Still, as well as a number of later figures.

16

Corps de dame, la rose incarnate

signed and dated "J. Dubuffet Juin 50" lower left
oil on canvas
46 x 35 1/2 in. (116.8 x 90.2 cm.)
Painted in 1950.

Estimate
$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

sold for $2,290,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST