Jean Dubuffet - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Phillips

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  • Perhaps best known as the founder of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet eschewed conventional beauty in favor of raw, visceral expression in his 40-year practice, often seeking inspiration from the unlikeliest places. Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous)—or "Cow Landscape (The Meeting)"—emerges from a limited series of 24 paintings that epitomize this quest. These works capture the essence of Dubuffet’s Lieux cursifs (Cursive places) period, which spanned from April to September of 1957, with remarkable clarity and intensity. In 1955, Dubuffet moved to Vence in the South of France to escape the turbulence and loneliness of city life in Paris. The open landscape of the countryside and the cyclical simplicity of agricultural life served as the necessary impetus for Dubuffet to drastically shift his compositional structure, resulting in a body of work that put forth a vision of raw landscape populated by figures and animals. Articulated in the artist’s archetypally naïf or ‘rough’ manner, Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous), with its scraped landscape seemingly grazed down by the titular cow, underscores a connection to the natural world and exemplifies Dubuffet’s signature Art Brut, or “Raw Art,” style. Created during his productive tenure in Vence in June 1957, the present work stands as a testament to Dubuffet’s commitment to exploring the tactile possibilities of the painted medium, as well as his ongoing dialogue between rural tranquility and urban frenzy.


    Jean Dubuffet in Vence, c. 1960. Photograph by Paolo Monti. Image: Paolo Monti, Artwork: © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    Dubuffet first exhibited the work at his inaugural Paris retrospective, held at Musée des arts décoratifs from 1960 to 1961. “Now it is the unreal that enchants me,” wrote Dubuffet in Apercevoir, his introductory text for the accompanying catalogue.i “I have an appetite for the un-true, the false life, the anti-world; my work is launched on the path of unrealism. I find that realism and unrealism are the two poles between which art is divided, much more than the ridiculous notions of the abstract and the figurative, chased after by all the simplistic and uninformed minds of today, and which are purely illusory."ii Notably, the present work was also showcased in a second lifetime retrospective at Waddington Galleries in London in 1983. It was following this exhibition that the work was purchased by the prominent Chicago collector couple Joseph and Jeanne Sullivan, in whose care it remained until Jeanne’s passing in 2023 (Joseph having preceded her in death almost two decades prior, in 2006). The Sullivans, renowned art lovers, were also committed humanitarians who founded The Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Program for Human Rights in the Americas at DePaul University in 1992. Focused on indigenous rights, human trafficking, and post-conflict justice, their program aimed to enhance human rights protections and empower victims through direct advocacy within the Inter-American Human Rights System.

    “My art is an attempt to bring all disparaged values into the limelight.”
    —Jean Dubuffet

    Dubuffet's choice of method and material in Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous) speaks to a broader narrative about the physical act of painting. Starting with a thick base of the darkest pigments first, Dubuffet applied touches of earthy ochre and pops of cadmium red before covering the surface in a generous layer of alabaster white. He then carved into these densely painted layers with aggressive, incisive strokes that define and disrupt the pastoral scene, drawing forth his figures from the ground up so that they appear as one with the surface, rooted in its depths. Reflecting on what he calls the “primordial figuration” of this period, Dubuffet writes, “I feel that this hasty and very sketchy character of their delineation gives them an effective and tragic shock value—at least it affects me.”iii Of the process, he continues “In these paintings I have experimented with this mechanism in various ways: sometimes by means of lines carved in the paste with the round edge of a spatula, sometimes using rather unattractive heavy black lines painted with a large brush, sometimes, on the contrary, by lines so lightly traced that one can hardly make out the object delineated.”iv This technique not only imbues the work with a dynamic sense of movement but also reflects the chaotic interplay between man and nature—a theme recurrent throughout the Lieux cursifs series. The rich palette of walnut, umber, and iridescent gray evokes the earthy tones of the Vence countryside, grounding the abstraction in a tangible reality.


    Willem de Kooning, Woman, c. 1952. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    In the artist's 1969 catalogue raisonné, a rare glimpse into his working method for the Lieux cursifs reveals how Dubuffet meticulously honed his technique. His notes, translated from the original French, read as follows:


    “From a canvas that has previously been painted with black lacquer:


    Paint over the black lacquer base with black paint and let it dry for twenty-four hours.


    Apply (with a large putty knife), by scraping and smoothing thinly over the surface, several strong dark brown tones, a range of reds (obtained by mixing cadmium red with black) and yellows (yellow-orange with black). (These darker tones can only be achieved by using pure cadmium pigments). Scrape thoroughly to have very little thickness.


    Apply (with a large putty knife), in a perfunctory and quick manner, layers of light ochre paint in some places, layers of very light and vivid paint in other places, going over the latter with the former; after which smooth the surface over – always quickly and roughly – with the large putty knife.


    With the tip on a rounded knife, trace the graffiti. Finally, scrape the area of the sky.”v


    At the heart of Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous) lies a profound contemplation of space and belonging. The titular cow at upper left, an emblem of pastoral life, anchors the narrative in the rural landscape. Yet the presence of abstract, almost graffiti-like figures suggests an intrusion, or perhaps integration, of human and urban elements into this bucolic setting. The addendum to the title as well, Le rendez-vous or “The meeting,” implies a deliberate convergence or clash of these disparate worlds. Dubuffet navigates these intersections with a characteristic blend of irony and affection, challenging the viewer to reconsider the boundaries between nature and human imposition.

    “A crack in the ground, sparkling gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris offer equally worthy subjects for your applause and admiration.”
    —Jean Dubuffet

    Dubuffet’s practice in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s represents a unique manifestation of post-World War II aesthetics, as he explored new artistic expressions that celebrated unpolished creativity while consciously moving away from traditional academic styles. Although influenced by the spontaneous, gestural mark-making of the Abstract Expressionists, Dubuffet’s approach was distinctly individualistic. He shunned the constraints of convention, often incorporating tactile elements into his works that emphasized their immediate and primal qualities. These ideas, which are central to the Art Brut style he fathered, underscore his desire to connect more deeply with the natural world and the unfiltered expressions of everyday people, which he believed captured a more authentic and visceral form of beauty. Rooted in these principles, Dubuffet’s approach celebrates the untrained, the unsanctioned, and the unconventional. Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous) exemplifies this philosophy through its embrace of primal forms and spontaneous execution. The present work’s rough, almost primitive appearance belies a sophisticated understanding of human psychology and societal structures. Dubuffet does not merely paint a landscape; he constructs an arena in which the raw complexities of human experience are laid bare.

    “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

    Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous) not only encapsulates a moment in Dubuffet's personal and artistic journey but also prefigures broader movements in modern and contemporary art. The painting's prophetic quality, with its blend of textural dynamism and linear narrative, anticipates the explosive expressions of urban street art of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more recently anxious scrawls of Rashid Johnson. In this respect, Dubuffet’s work remains remarkably contemporary in character.


    Through Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous), Jean Dubuffet invites viewers into a world where the lines between the physical landscape and internal psyche are blurred, where the crude markings of a paintbrush reveal deeper truths about our world. As such, the painting stands as a crucial pivot in Dubuffet's oeuvre, encapsulating the essence of a period marked by bold experimentation and a redefinition of what art could be.



    iMusée des arts décoratifs, Jean Dubuffet 1942-1960, Paris, 1961, n.p.


    iiiJean Dubuffet, “Leux Cursifs (Cursive Places). Notes on the twenty-four pictures painted in Vence between April 1 and August 31, 1957,” The Work of Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, p. 125.

    ivIbid., p. 126.

    vJean Dubuffet, extract from the artist’s sketchbook reproduced in Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XIII: Célébration du sol I, lieux cursifs, texturologies, topographies, Lausanne, 1969, p. 44.

    • Provenance

      Studio Paul Facchetti, Paris
      Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London
      Collection E. J. Power, esq., London (acquired by 1960)
      Waddington Galleries, London
      Joseph and Jeanne Sullivan, Chicago (acquired from the above on May 16, 1995)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Rétrospective Jean Dubuffet 1942-1960, December 16, 1960–February 25, 1961, pl. 78, no. 163, pp. 230, 328 (illustrated, p. 328)
      London, Waddington Galleries, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, October 5–29, 1983, no. 16, pp. 3, 23 (illustrated, p. 23)

    • Literature

      Paul Facchetti, ed., Catalogue des peintures faites à Vence du 1er avril au 31 août 1957, 1958, Paris, no. 14, n.p. (illustrated)
      Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XIII: Célébration du sol I, lieux cursifs, texturologies, topographies, Lausanne, 1969, no. 55, pp. 43, 150, 152 (illustrated, p. 43)

Property from the Joseph and Jeanne Sullivan Collection


Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous)

signed and dated "J. Dubuffet 57" upper right; signed, titled and dated "Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous) J. Dubuffet juin 57" on the reverse
oil on canvas
35 x 46 in. (88.9 x 116.8 cm)
Painted on June 11, 1957.

Full Cataloguing

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $635,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 May 2024