Bernard Buffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 13, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Painting, we do not talk about it, we do not analyse it, we feel it"
    —Bernard Buffet
    The austere tone of Bernard Buffet’s expressionist oeuvre translates itself through a distinctive treatment of materials, angular forms, and a sombre tonal palette. Having produced over 8,000 works during his lifetime, Buffet’s prolific output expands across portraiture, townscapes, still lifes as well as historical and religious subject matter. Palais des Doges, is an impressive example of his angular and geometric treatment of the metropolitan landscape. Through expressionist rending, monumental architecture is presented to the viewer in a figurative, graphic, and centralist manner that boldly rejects the dominant trend of Abstraction which was dictating artistic taste at the end of the twentieth century.


    As a member of the anti-abstract group L’homme Témoin (the Witness-Man), Buffet championed the agenda of the movement by adopting a style of expressive Social Realism as opposed to the prevailing abstract preferences. The group’s manifesto was drawn up by fellow critic Jean Bouret to affirm that ‘painting exists to bear witness,’ with Buffet joining the cause after the group’s 1949 exhibition at the Galerie Claude. L’homme Témoin sought to approach subject matter through a somewhat pessimistic and serious lens that drew focus on the social, political, and historical issues that prevailed within humanity. Described by Werner Haftmann as ‘the pictorial equivalent of existentialism, [bearing] witness to the emptiness of the world, the desolation of things deserted in the ghost-like barrenness of space, [and] man's vulnerability’.i

    "Painting is serious. A vice, not a play thing"
    —Bernard Buffet

    Within the present work, Buffet’s aesthetic rendering of subject matter provides space for the viewer to reflect on the contents of the work and the society from which it originates. The visibly harsh and graphic lines delineate the canvas to segregate the grand architecture from the murky blur of people below. Man’s conquest over the landscape is celebrated by Buffet’s use of composition and tone, whilst the sombre reality of existence is reduced to an indistinguishable mass.


    Having trained to draw at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Buffet was viewed as a rising star in the art world with his works meeting international critical acclaim. He paired his artistic training with a deep study of society, becoming familiar with the existentialist philosophies of Santre and Simone de Beauvoir. When looking at his townscapes, the teachings of these can be seen to lie within the grey tinge and strong black boundaries that carve up the compositions. These grave musings on the state of humanity and the reality of behaviour as one combined unit are reflected by the dull communality of the smudged crowd at the base of le Palais des Doges. The presentation of the state of human collective experience in contrast to the grand legacy of historical Venice was translated throughout this series, a reflection on humanity bound to the major shift in his life that came with the birth of his two daughters: Virginie (1962) and Danielle (1963). Within this context this series becomes a mediation on the future, on peoples’ place within a historical legacy, and a search for the truth, which was so heavily positioned by existentialist philosophies.


    Portrait of the artist Bernard Buffet in his workshop, 5 January 1958.
    Portrait of the artist Bernard Buffet in his workshop, 5 January 1958.Image: © Keystone/Zuma / Bridgeman Images

    Despite an academic discourse centred upon abstraction, it was the sincerity in his compositions that drew public favour. Buffet’s invariable fidelity to the pure presentation of reality cemented his distinctive figurative style within the canon of twentieth century art. As his commercial success grew, Maurice Garnier began to represent Buffet out of his Parisian gallery and, to this day, Garnier supports the propagation and appreciation of Buffet’s oeuvre. The appreciation of Buffet’s work is very well established with three museums dedicated to him: two in Japan, and one in Paris.


    i Werner Haftmann, Painting in the Twentieth Century, London, Lund Humphries, 1965, p. 323

    • Provenance

      Galerie David and Maurice Garnier, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished French Collection


Palais des Doges

signed and dated 'Bernard Buffet 62' upper right
oil on canvas
89.9 x 130.5 cm (35 3/8 x 51 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1962.

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Galerie Maurice Garnier.
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Galerie David et Garnier.

Full Cataloguing

£170,000 - 250,000 ‡♠

Sold for £296,100

Contact Specialist

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 13 October 2022