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Profil Genre Aztèque
£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 ♠ †
sold for £1,449,000
Mr & Mme Jean Paulhan, Paris (a gift from the artist on 1 January 1946)
Galerie de l’Élysée (Alex Maguy), Paris
Mr & Mrs Larry Aldrich, New York (acquired from the above)
Their sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 30 October 1963, lot 48
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Sir Edward & Lady Hulton, London
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm
Galerie Bonnier, Geneva
Dieter Hauert, Berlin (acquired circa 1975)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Mirobolus Macadam et Cie-Hautes Pâtes de Jean Dubuffet, 3 May - 1 June 1946, no. 20
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet, February - April 1965, no. 11, n. p. (illustrated)
Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Kunst in Freiheit Moore, Dubuffet, Tobey, 29 May - 27 June 1965, no. 7, n. p. (illustrated)
Stockholm, Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Jean Dubuffet Målningar 1944-1959, February - March 1967, no. 6
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Der unverbrauchte Blick, 29 January - 5 April 1987, n. p. (illustrated)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High & Low: Modern Art Popular Culture, 7 October 1990 - 15 September 1991, pl. 35, p. 87 (illustrated)
Westfälisches Landesmuseum Münster; Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste, Das offene Bild: Aspekte der Moderne in Europa nach 1945, 15 November 1992 - 31 May 1993, p. 36 (illustrated)
Berlin, Galerie Bastian, Dubuffet - Fautrier. Bilder aus einer Berliner Sammlung, 16 Sept - 14 Nov 2014, p. 14 (illustrated)
Michael Tapié, Mirobolus Macadam et Cie-Hautes Pâtes de J. Dubuffet, Paris, 1946, no. 15. p. 24 (illustrated)
Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet. Fascicule II: Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie, Paris, 1966, no. 84, p. 58 (illustrated)
Profil Genre Aztèque is a historic early painting by Jean Dubuffet, dating from the early days of his mature artistic career, which truly began in the final days of the Second World War. This picture, which was dedicated and given to his friend, the author Jean Paulhan, featured in Dubuffet’s second exhibition, when he showed a group of Hautes Pâtes, works sharing the heavy, incised impasto visible here. This painting has a rich, overspilling sense of materiality that complements the titular profile, which has been scrawled on the surface with a frenetic energy that speaks of the energy of graffiti and the street as well as timeless cave paintings and the art of the insane. Dubuffet’s increasing interest in Art Brut at this time is evident both in the technique and the content: the titular profile is shown with a manic, rictus grin, all the teeth bared, perhaps recalling images of Xipe Totec, the deity who embodied death and rebirth of the Aztec culture. At the same time, this figure may be ‘aztèque’ according to the word’s usage in the argot, or French slang, so beloved by Dubuffet, in which it means small or stunted. Dubuffet’s ability to compress artistic, cultural and non-canonical notions of representation in a single painting—or even title—was recognised when Profil Genre Aztèque was included in Kirk Varnedoe’s controversial landmark exhibition High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1990. That show, which explored the two-way traffic between art and popular culture, was attacked by critics but attracted huge crowds, a result of which Dubuffet himself would have doubtless approved.
Although Dubuffet had made several attempts at painting, it was only in 1942, in the midst of the Occupation of Paris, that he sold his wine business and departed upon a new vocation as an artist, aged forty-one. Within a short amount of time, he was channelling the vivid, direct aesthetic that is encapsulated in Profil Genre Aztèque. Initially working in relative seclusion, Dubuffet soon gained the encouragement of his friend Georges Limbour, who brought more and more people to see his pictures. Among these visitors was Paulhan, who came to the studio at the end of 1943 and struck up a strong friendship with Dubuffet. Indeed, between 1945 and 1947, he was the subject of over two dozen paintings and drawings by Dubuffet, several of which are now in museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. Paulhan had been a long-established writer, and as the senior editor at Gallimard in the interwar period had played a significant role in the shaping of the French literary landscape of the period.
Profil Genre Aztèque was dedicated to Paulhan on New Year’s Day 1946, adding to its historical importance. Paulhan had spent the final part of the Second World War—the first years of their friendship—in hiding from the occupying forces in France due to his involvement with the Resistance. In 1942, he had begun printing Lettres Françaises, a Resistance publication which had nineteen editions, the final one after the Liberation. He had earlier been arrested, and released, for his part in underground publishing. This, then, was the first New Year since the end of the War, and only the second since the end of the Occupation, and Paulhan’s emergence from his clandestine existence.
Dubuffet’s own aesthetic, as shown in Profil Genre Aztèque, was itself a perfect embodiment both of the anxiety of the age, and also of resistance. Against the backdrop of Entartete Kunst, Dubuffet had boldly and wilfully harnessed the raw, electric vision of the mentally ill. Dubuffet’s fascination with the art of the insane was consolidated during trips to Switzerland to see Hans Prinzhorn’s famous collection—indeed, in 1945, the year that Profil Genre Aztèque was painted, he had travelled there with Paulhan and Le Corbusier.
Dubuffet had been struck by the refreshing directness of the art of the mentally ill, and channelled it more and more into his own pictures, as well as his wider concept, and collection of Art Brut. The frenetic surface of Profil Genre Aztèque is suffused with a gleeful sense of abandon. Dubuffet has discarded any classical notions of representation, instead channelling something far more visceral. The unvarnished surface is raised through his bold use of impasto which, despite officially being catalogued as oil on canvas, reveals the inclusion of more mixed material. The graffiti-like lines that depict the profile have been gouged into this surface, as though scratched manically on a brick wall, revealing different colours underneath. Fiery flickers of red and white punctuate the composition, made all the more dramatic by their contrast with the tar-like surface. During 1946, only the year after Profil Genre Aztèque was painted, Dubuffet would write in terms that relate clearly to this picture and its vivid, visceral impasto:
‘The objective of painting is to animate a surface which is by definition two-dimensional and without depth. One does not enrich it in seeking effects of relief or trompe-l’oeil through shading; one denatures and adulterates it... Let us seek instead ingenious ways to flatten objects on the surface; and let the surface speak its own language and not an artificial language of three-dimensional space which is not proper to it’ (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Prospectus aux amateurs de tout genre, Paris, 1946, p. 74, quoted in Margit Rowell, ‘Jean Dubuffet: An Art on the Margins of Culture’, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 1973, p.24).
Even the liberated Paris was not entirely ready for Dubuffet’s work. He had his first exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin in 1944, shortly after the Liberation, on which occasion Paulhan wrote an introduction for the catalogue. Profil Genre Aztèque featured in his second show, held at the same gallery in 1946, an exhibition which against a relatively conservative artistic backdrop in Paris, received significant criticism. Despite this, Dubuffet’s literary connections served him well, and his work was defended vociferously—and sold easily, helping to establish his burgeoning reputation. Coinciding with this exhibition, Drouin published a book by Michel Tapié under the same title, Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie: Hautes Pâtes de Jean Dubuffet which included descriptions of the illustrated works by the artist himself. About Profil Genre Aztèque, he wrote:
‘Profil genre aztèque 65 x 54 (novembre 45). Mâchefer et goudron, scories hérissées traversées de flaques d'un noir hermétique. Le personnage très éraflé couleur de caillot de sang de boeuf. Tient d’une pièce de four tombée en rebut et d'une résine gommeuse en ébullition’ (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Michael Tapié, Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie: Hautes Pâtes de Jean Dubuffet, Paris, 1946).
Profil Genre Aztèque has been owned by a string of high-profile collectors since it was painted over seven decades ago, as well as passing through the hands of incredibly important dealers such as Alex Maguy of the Galerie de l’Elysée, Ernst Beyeler, Harry and Jan Runnqvist of the Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet and Galerie Bonnier in Geneva. Profil Genre Aztèque was recently owned by the Berlin-based businessman and collector, Dieter Hauert. Previously, it had been in the formidable collection of the fashion designer Larry Aldrich, who would ultimately found a museum that still bears his name. The painting was later acquired by the media magnate Sir Edward Hulton, the founder of the Picture Post and also the photographic archive that for a long time bore his name. Highlights from Hulton’s own collection were exhibited several times during his own lifetime, including two shows at Tate Gallery, London, shortly before the acquisition of Profil Genre Aztèque. His wife had a particular fascination for, and highly-esteemed collection of works by Paul Klee, but they were known for their wide-ranging taste, gathering works ‘from Tintoretto to de Staël’ (Max Huggler, introduction to Sammlung Sir Edward und Lady Hulton. London, exh. cat., Wuppertal, 1964, n.p., quoted in Catherine Dossin, The Rise and Fall of American Art, 1940s-1980s, Abingdon, 2016, p. 90). The presence of Profil Genre Aztèque testifies further to the wide-ranging taste of their formidable collection.
Profil Genre Aztèque
£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 ♠ †
sold for £1,449,000
London Auction 8 March 2018