Jean Dubuffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Jean Dubuffet's 'Barbe de rites': Disruption in Disguise

    Jean Dubuffet's 'Barbe des rites' (1959) resembles a portrait. We can see the eyes, nose and mouth of a bearded man. But when we look closer, we see the artist has deliberately disrupted all the conventions of figurative painting: the beard itself is like an abstract painting, a haze of frenetic brushstrokes, drips and even incisions in the paint's surface. Worldwide Head of 20th Century Art Hugues Joffre presents this masterful and innovative work from our 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 8 May 2016 in New York.

  • Provenance

    Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris
    Galerie Stadler, Paris
    Dr. & Mrs. Paul Todd Makler, Philadelphia
    Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, July 6, 1973

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, Jean Dubuffet: As-tu cueilli la fleur de Barbe, April 27 - May 31, 1960, no. 39

  • Literature

    Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd., ed., Masterpiece of the Month, London: February 1973 (illustrated)
    Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XV: As-tu cueilli la fleur de Barbe, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1985, no. 53, p. 43 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    'Your beard is my boat
    Your beard is the sea on which I sail
    Beard of flux and influx
    Beard-bath and rain of beards
    Element woven of fluids
    Tapestry of tales.'
    Excerpt from La fleur de barbe by Jean Dubuffet, 1960

    With its energetic haze of brushstrokes and painterly marks, Barbe des rites perfectly encapsulates the unfettered invention and enthusiasm of Jean Dubuffet. Painted in July 1959, Barbe des rites dates from early in Dubuffet's exploration of the theme of the beard, and crucially is one of the first oil paintings from the series, which he exhibited the following year at Daniel Cordier's gallery. In Barbe des rites, the backdrop and the face of the painting are filled with scraped patterns, with marks and stains that give a sense of texture, as though Dubuffet had leaned the canvas against a brick wall and manipulated the paint. Through this thinned, textured paint surface peer two tiny eyes, perched near the top of the painting, embedded within the mass of a face. The center of the painting is dominated by a field of feathered, hatched, frenetic brushstrokes, giving the impression of the tangle of hair. The beard of the title is a riot of movement: flecks of grey, black and cream paint dart in every direction, given all the more verve by the various marks that Dubuffet has incised in the paint surface. The latticework of brushstrokes and incisions is further punctuated by drips which give the sense of some complex constellation. The beard is thrown into further relief by its contrast with the rest of the canvas, not least the barely-delineated face that crests this turbulent maelstrom.

    This area of beard recalls Dubuffet's Texturologies, the series of abstract-seeming landscape-style works that he had been painting shortly prior. Indeed, he considered the Barbes to be Texturologies hanging from a chin. Dubuffet blurred the lines between landscape and portraiture in the Barbes and it for this reason that examples of such were included in the recent exhibition, Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, held at the Beyeler Foundation, Riehen, whose own collection includes one of the pictures, Table de barbe. Another dating from July, 1959, Barbe des combats, is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

    Appropriating his own Texturologies for the Barbes, Dubuffet incorporated his language of landscape within the format of the portrait. Barbe des rites and its fellows fused the human and the natural, thus achieving one of the artist's long-stated goals, “I think portraits and landscapes should resemble each other because they are more or less the same thing. I want portraits in which description makes use of the same mechanisms as those used in a landscape - here wrinkles, there ravines or paths; here a nose, there a tree; here a mouth and there a house.” (Dubuffet, 1947, quoted in R. Bouvier (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, exh. cat., Riehen, 2016, p. 40). This language, this fusion between landscape and portrait, made a huge impact in 1947, marking Dubuffet out as one to watch. Its combination of post-war grit and charming wit enchanted a generation of critics and collectors.

    The notion of marrying landscape and portraiture, which Dubuffet explored in the iconic 1950 Corps de dame series featuring women depicted as a flattened, impastoed terrain, would re-emerge almost a decade later in the Barbes. This same notion even bled into Dubuffet's poem La fleur de barbe, which he wrote in 1959, published the following year, and illustrated with five of the early beard pictures. The first image reproduced alongside the poem, the essentially abstract Prairie de barbe, is but a Texturologie by another name while the remaining four works were created by taking pieces of paper painted as Texturologie and arranging them in the form of a bearded man. In that poem, descriptions of the landscape, of the spring coating of fauna, were melded with imagery relating to beards. Barbe des rites perfectly encapsulates this potent mixture with both the frenetic foliage-like thatch of the beard itself, and the more stony backdrop and monolithic neck and face.

    The Barbes had their inception in a humorous illustration that Dubuffet had included in a letter to his friend the poet Georges Limbour in May that year. Responding to Limbour's description of the artist as a Stoic because of the ascetic Texturologies, Dubuffet included an image of the bearded philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius. This was the spark that led to the densely-worked surfaces of the abstract Texturologies becoming collage elements in the emphatically-figurative Barbes. Later in May, he wrote to André Pieyre de Mandiargues, “I am trying my hand at painting beards… I would like to paint a series of vast, cosmic, mystic beards.” (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in D. Abadie (ed.), Dubuffet, exh. cat., Paris, 2001, p. 384) These terms are all too apt when looking at the constellation of brushstrokes within the beard in Barbe des rites, painted only two months afterwards.

    Barbe des rites and a number of its sister-pictures were exhibited in the gallery of Daniel Cordier the year after they had been created. Entitled Jean Dubuffet. As-tu cueilli la Fleur de Barbe, the show dated from an important period in his relationship with the dealer. At this time, Dubuffet was moving away from the New York-based dealer Pierre Matisse, with whom he had a number of disagreements, and gave Cordier-- the first owner of Barbe des rites -- increasing access to his works. Cordier would even open a gallery in New York partly to this end, and helped to promote Dubuffet internationally at a time that his reputation was truly in the ascendant-- indeed, at the end of the same year as the Barbes exhibition, Dubuffet was granted a retrospective at the Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris. Barbe des rites therefore dates from a watershed moment in Dubuffet's career, as he was gaining wide-ranging recognition in France and beyond. Barbe des rites clearly revives Dubuffet's fascination with the figurative, with its sheer sense of glee and characters such as those featured in his earlier Portraits, while also paving the way for Dubuffet's seminal Paris Circus two years later. At the same time, its humorous little eyes, its focus on the human face and its electric blaze of brushstrokes all ensure that Barbe des rites retains an energy – and a charm – that is very much its own.

Property from a Distinguished Private British Collection


Barbe des rites

oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in. (100 x 81 cm)
Signed and dated "J. Dubuffet 59" upper left; further signed, titled and dated "J. Dubuffet Barbe des rites juillet 59" on the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $3,077,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016