Jean Dubuffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "Art, by its very essence is of the new…There is only one healthy diet for artistic creation: that of permanent revolution."
    —Jean Dubuffet 

    At once visually immersive and conceptually radiant, Jean Dubuffet’s oeuvre amounts to an anthology of its own. Comprising more than thirty series that have since become iconic to both collectors and the most ardent admirers—Plus beaux qu’ils croient (Portraits), Corps de Dames, Tableaux d’assemblages, Célébration du sol: Texturologies et Topographies, Paris Circus, L’Hourloupe, and Théâtres de mémoire—the artist’s opus functions like a narrative to unfold, tracing his personal evolution and meanderings as he lived through the significant cultural shifts and artistic breakthroughs of the last century. L'homme à la toque belongs to Dubuffet'sTableaux d’assemblages series, which he began in November 1955 and continued working on until April 1957. An important body of work, the Tableaux d’assemblages explored the notion of creating painted canvas collage and afforded Dubuffet the ability to create depth within the picture plane—a concept he delved deeper into with the richly hued and dynamic Théâtres de mémoire collage paintings of the 1970s.


    Jean Dubuffet in his studio, 1950s. Collection Agence Gamma-Rapho, Image: © Robert Doisneau/GAMMA RAPHO, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    Dubuffet noted, “this new technique of assemblage gave me, as soon as I started on it, the impression of lending itself perfectly to treating the subjects that had been so much in my mind… the roadbed, the grasses and little plants pushing through along the sides, the foot of a wall…”i Translating to ‘‘The man with a cap,’’ the present work elucidates this sense of dynamism through the vast layering of countless textures and earthly hues within the composition. 



    Included in Dubuffet’s first exhibition in 1965 at the Galerie Beyeler in Basel, which celebrated work from the first twenty years of his career, this show marked the commencement of a nearly twelve-year period of collaboration between the artist and the famed gallerist, Ernst Beyeler. Ahead of the exhibition opening in 1964, Dubuffet signed an exclusive contract concerning new works from the L’Hourloupe series. Shared between Galerie Beyeler and the Parisian Galerie Jeanne Bucher, this unique arrangement made Dubuffet the only artist represented by Beyeler in this way. During this period of collaboration, Beyeler played a pivotal role in building the artist’s European following and subsequently sold more than 750 works and organised six monographic exhibitions between 1965 and 2009. The close relationship between artist and gallerist was once more renewed in 2016 when the Fondation Beyeler organized Jean Dubuffet — Metamorphoses of Landscape, a comprehensive retrospective celebrating the artist’s career. 


    Tableaux d’assemblages

  • After travelling to Savoie with Pierre Bettencourt during the summer of 1953, Dubuffet began producing the Assemblages d’empreintes, a series of collages utilizing the mosaic effect of butterfly wings—nearly four decades before Damien Hirst’s own series of paintings incorporating the kaleidoscope effect of exotic butterflies commenced. Through this act of transforming natural elements, Dubuffet was empowered by the freedom collage gave him and was prompted to further explore the notion of assemblage by fabricating his own collage elements. Dubuffet quickly transitioned to simultaneously creating and destroying imprints made with India ink, newsprint, and oil on canvas to create new compositions, establishing assemblage as a foundational concept which would dominate his oeuvre for the remainder of his artistic production. 


    [left] Jean Dubuffet, Paysage aux argus, 1955. Fondation Dubuffet, Paris, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris [right] Damien Hirst, Eulogy, 2008. Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway, Artwork: © 2021 Damien Hirst

    In January 1955, owing to increased critical acclaim, Dubuffet purchased a home along with a studio space in Vence, situated between Nice and Antibes, where he would work until 1961. Embarking on a new body of work, the Tableaux d’assemblages, and inspired by organic materials and wild flora, Dubuffet honed his spontaneous material experimentations by preparing densely covering canvases with an array of shapes, marks, and textures appropriating the spectrum of natural hues found in Vence’s rural landscape. With impulsive gestures, Dubuffet covers the canvas to create an inventory of random shapes and sizes by cutting out his favorite sections to spontaneously assemble landscapes and figures from the fragments. Arranging the cut canvases like pieces of a puzzle, Dubuffet’s end result emulated raw, aerial views of rural terrain. The Tableaux d’assemblages stand as a pinnacle moment within the first half of Dubuffet’s career; in subsequent series the artist breaks away from figurative works in order to pursue a largely non-objective body of work. When returning to figuration in the ensuing years with Paris Circus, it is with a renewed vigour and entirely new approach.  


    "I envisaged making all sorts of experiments with various textures, patches, marks, etc. on the canvases, then cutting out the parts I liked and assembling them at will. The main attraction of this technique was that it allowed me to make my first marks with great freedom and spontaneity, without worrying about spoiling other parts of the picture."
     —Jean Dubuffet 

    On the Streets 


    The graffiti-esque mark making evident throughout L'homme à la toque is rooted in Dubuffet’s fascination with the graffiti he found covering the streets of Paris during the French Occupation. Dubuffet would explore the streets of Paris seeking out graffiti, and ‘‘considered the walls of Paris to be poignant surfaces, their dense scars and inscriptions bearing witness to the past and present lives of the city.’’ii In June 1944, Dubuffet made sixteen Messages in which fragmented text –‘‘Always dedicated to your orders,’’ ‘‘The Key is Under the Shutter,’’ and ‘‘Urgent’’—were scrawled over French and German newspapers. As relevant today as it was then, the contrast of the intimate handwritten notes against the printed typography is a nod to the conflicting sources of information surrounding news of the day. As a great admirer of Brassaï’s photographs of Parisian graffiti, which depicted details of the graffiti carved into and painted onto the walls of the city, Dubuffet reflected that ‘‘the very basic…scribbles traced on a wall with a knifepoint’’ have ‘‘more precious meaning than most…large pretentious paintings.’’iii

    "Dubuffet considered the walls of Paris to be poignant surfaces, their dense scars and inscriptions bearing witness to the past and present lives of the city." 
    —Eleanor Nairne

    [left] Brassaï, Graffiti, 1944-1945. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork: © Estate Brassaï-RMN [right] Detail of the present work

    Once described as the child of Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Michel Basquiat began engaging with Art Brut during the 1970s after seeing works from the Théâtres de mémoire at the Pace Gallery in New York.iv Dubuffet’s legacy flows through Basquiat’s appropriation of words, fascination with the streets of New York and figuration, and non-traditional approaches to art making. As did Dubuffet, Basquiat created his own collage elements by using manipulated Xerox copies of his own drawings: repeating the images, cutting them up, pasting onto canvas, and in part covering them with acrylic, spray paints and oil stick. Playing with the primitive and externalizing stream of conscious drawing, both Dubuffet and Basquiat’s works are entwined with contemporary commentaries and their own unique personal histories. 

    "Basquiat used to come in every other month to see my father and see what Dubuffets had come in. He used to come in and study them. He [Dubuffet] was such a huge influence." 
    —Marc Glimcher

    As one of the defining artists of the post-war era, Dubuffet became the greatest creative liberator, eschewing traditional approaches to artmaking and looking beyond traditional canon of art historical influences. Jean Dubuffet’s genealogy can be traced through the subsequent generations of artists from the work of David Hockney to Keith Haring to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Rashid Johnson. 


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981. The Broad, Los Angeles, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York


    Jean Dubuffet: An Artist and an Alchemist


    Senior Advisor Hugues Joffre explores the artistic experimentations and lasting impact of Jean Dubuffet on Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring (read here).


    In Conversation


    Rashid Johnson and Eleanor Nairne discuss Jean Dubuffet’s influence ahead of Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty, on view at the Barbican, London until August 22, 2021.


    i Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 12.
    ii Eleanor Nairne, Jean Dubuffet Brutal Beauty, exh. cat., Barbican, London, 2021, p. 11.
    iii Jean Dubuffet, ‘‘Honneur aux valeurs sauvages,’’ Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, vol. I, Paris, 1967, pp. 215-216.
    iv Eleanor Nairne, “The Performance of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Basquiat Boom for Real, documentary, 2017, p. 24.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Rive Gauche, Paris (acquired in 1957)
      Private Collection, Paris (acquired by 1969)
      Galerie Cazeau-Béraudiere, Paris (acquired by 2006)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Rive Droite, Tableaux d’assemblages, April 30 – May 23, 1957, no. 22, n.p.
      Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet, February – April 1965, no. 39, n.p.

    • Literature

      Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: fascicule XII: Tableaux d’assemblages, Lausanne, 1969, no. 80, p. 130 (illustrated, p. 73)

Property of a Distinguished American Collector


L'homme à la toque

signed and dated "J. Dubuffet 56" upper right; signed, titled and dated "L'homme à la toque J. Dubuffet octobre 56" on the reverse
oil and canvas collage on canvas
51 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (130.8 x 85.1 cm)
Executed in October 1956.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,571,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021