Jean Dubuffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
    Frank Perls Gallery, Los Angeles
    Private Collection
    Donald Morris Gallery, Detroit
    B.C. Holland Inc., Chicago
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Vence, Galerie Les Mages, Vingt tableaux peints récemment à Vence par Jean Dubuffet, October 1 - 3, 1955, no. 13
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Exhibition of paintings and "assemblages d'empreintes" executed in 1954-1955 by Jean Dubuffet, February 21 - March 17, 1956, no. 15 (incorrect work illustrated)
    Detroit, Donald Morris Gallery, Dubuffet: paintings drawings gouaches 1946-1966, March 1974, no. 15, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XI: Charrettes, jardins, personnages monolithes, Lausanne, 1969, no. 163, pp. 133, 136 (illustrated, p. 107)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted on September 12, 1955, Ciboulot Pistolet is one of Jean Dubuffet’s “Personnages monoliths”, an important group of pictures in which the artist developed new ways of manipulating the paint surface. In Ciboulot Pistolet, the sheer darkness of the background thrusts into bold relief a shimmering figure that appears to coalesce from an incredible combination of lighter colors. The oils that build up the surface of the “personnage” have been pressed, patted and scraped through Dubuffet’s use of seemingly myriad effects that the viewers can lose themselves within. Presenting an entire world of detail, the range of colors utilized, some of them pale, others organic and speaking of the soil, while there are also flecks and bursts of intense color elsewhere, succeed in creating a surface filled with infinite variety and endless incident. It appears to vibrate with the very stuff of life. Chance and hazard have brought this figure into existence—it has emerged from the raw material of the universe—yet they have been skillfully and playfully guided by Dubuffet. That playfulness is more than apparent in the open stare that greets us in the face of Ciboulot Pistolet.

    This picture was painted in Vence, where Dubuffet had moved at the beginning of 1954. His and his wife Lili’s new home had been recommended because of the local expertise in pulmonary conditions—Lili had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis. At first, Dubuffet found himself deprived of the space to create anything of significant size, beginning with “assemblages” made of segments of printed paper, rearranged in order to conjure a landscape. Some months later, he found a larger studio and was therefore able to return to painting. His works from this period often featured a seemingly granular representation of the soil, or landscapes focusing on the overlooked, weed-strewn segments of countryside, often by the roadside. In addition, he created some of his butterfly paintings. However, towards the end of 1955, he adapted a new technique that saw him focus on painting, creating his “Personnages monolithes”. By that time, Dubuffet had experimented with pressing various objects, including a range of kitchen utensils, against his picture surfaces in order to harness their different effects. Here, that system evolved, with the dramatic results seen in Ciboulot Pistolet, through his use of newspaper. Dubuffet himself explained the system he developed, which was to remain important to him for some time to come:

    “The paintings were begun in the same way as the Pâtes Battues, a technique I kept going back to, that of spreading with a spatula a very light (almost white) brilliant color generously over layers (dry or partly dry) of different dark shades, the paint often thickly laid on. But now, over this fresh white paste, I spread various other shades, once more using strong colors and, without letting them dry, I applied whole newspapers, generally folded perpendicularly or sometimes intentionally crumpled. This operation removed a great deal of the color...leaving only spots and flashes arranged in a curious and interesting fashion (with marks left by the folds of the newspaper). Finally with a large soft brush I spread a background of black paint, leaving, however, the outlines of a person…All I had to do then was to finish off the figures lightly with a brush, taking care not to make my interventions too precise and to spoil the character to which they owed their special effect, that of stone figures born of circumstances almost foreign to the original intentions, rising all at once and instantaneously formed” (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, pp. 113-115).

    The results that so fascinated Dubuffet are clear to see in Ciboulot Pistolet, one of the earlier works from the group. Certainly, this looming form, with the light area filled with a dazzling array of marks that combine to create an almost kaleidoscopic effect, appears to have emerged into existence from some primeval matter. Some of the paintwork has been rendered in such a way that it appears organic, while in other areas it takes on a near-geological hue. The face itself has been rendered with minimal means, the wide eyes looking blankly out. It is telling that Dubuffet himself wrote that, “the indefinite blurred contours of the figures I had formed, and the way they stood out so startlingly white against the black background, made them look like menhirs” (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 115).

    In Ciboulot Pistolet, the creases of the newspaper that had been pressed against the paint surface are still visible, resulting in the block-like accumulation of forms that comprise the bulk of the figure. In their appearance, they prefigure Dubuffet’s Tableaux d’assemblages, which he began shortly afterwards. This was a series in which he took the assemblage technique he had earlier explored in works on paper and now translated it to oils on canvas. This required space—he ultimately built new studios in order to be able to work on them—as well as fiendishly strong glue. However, looking at Ciboulot Pistolet, the way that Dubuffet has used the newspaper to manipulate the paint surface clearly serves as a bridge between the Assemblages and painting, giving the superficial impression that the figure has been created in part through that process. However, the fact that this is a single canvas allows a flow of paint across the entirety of the figure, harnessed within the confines of frenetic, tremulous lines, drawing the viewer's attention hither and thither, creating a dynamic sense of motion, of movement-of life.

Property from the Private Collection of William Harris Smith, Chicago


Ciboulot Pistolet

signed and dated “J. Dubuffet 55” lower left; further signed, titled and dated “Ciboulot Pistolet J. Dubuffet Sept. 1955 ” on the reverse
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 32 1/8 in. (100.3 x 81.6 cm.)
Painted on September 12, 1955.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $500,000

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Amanda Lo Iacono
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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue