Jean Dubuffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris
    B.C. Holland, Inc., Chicago
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, As-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, April 27 - May 31, 1960, no. 3

  • Literature

    Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XV: as-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, Paris, 1985, no. 9, p. 86 (illustrated, p. 17)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Barbe des bourreaux de Paris was executed in May 1959 and therefore ranks as one of the earliest works in Jean Dubuffet’s series of “Barbes.” This is a highly-acclaimed group of works that saw Dubuffet embracing figuration, and in particular the human figure itself as a subject, with a renewed enthusiasm, following several years focusing on abstract or near-abstract depictions of textures and soils. In Barbe des bourreaux de Paris, the Texturologies have not been surpassed: they have been subsumed, with the titular beard, as well as the man’s body, being created out of collage fragments of those earlier works. In returning with such gusto to human subjects, Dubuffet can be seen to have been unknowingly paving the way for one of his most celebrated series of all, the Paris Circus of 1961.

    The origin of the “Barbes” was an illustration that Dubuffet included in a letter penned to his friend, the author Georges Limbour. Previously, Limbour—one of Dubuffet’s longest-standing supporters—had likened the artist to a stoic because of the perceived asceticism of the Texturologies. In response, Dubuffet portrayed himself as the bearded Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. In May 1959—the month that Dubuffet created Barbe des bourreaux de Paris—he wrote to André Pieyre de Mandiargues describing his newfound enthusiasm for the subject: “I am trying my hand at painting beards… I would like to paint a series of vast, cosmic, mystic beards” (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Dubuffet, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2001, p. 384). Barbe des bourreaux de Paris is the result of this quest: in the picture, Dubuffet has deliberately left the other facial features of the man almost unarticulated—they are cursory. This allows a complex game of textures to be played out in the composition, with the body itself featuring more densely-worked collage elements, while the beard itself is filled with marks and movements. It is a shimmering constellation and, placed at the center of the picture, demands the viewer’s attention.

    Within a short time of Barbe des bourreaux de Paris being created, Dubuffet had made an entire series of “Beards”. Indeed, only the following year, he would publish a poem, La fleur de Barbe, illustrated with some of these works. Later in 1960, the Paris-based gallerist Daniel Cordier—the first owner of this work—held an exhibition entitled, Jean Dubuffet. As-tu cueilli la Fleur de Barbe. For Dubuffet, the beard served as a symbol of masculinity, in contrast to the Corps de dame series from the beginning of the 1950s. The figures such as Barbe des bourreaux de Paris are hieratic, mystical, monolithic. This is an inscrutable, near-featureless man, staring out from the picture plane. His beard appears to be a cosmos in its own right, a realm of mystery and infinite complexity. Writing only a couple of years after Barbe des bourreaux de Paris was made, the museum director Peter Selz described this series: “Some resemble great rock formations or age-old boulders predating man's presence on this planet. Or they appear to be survivors of ancient barbaric—that is to say, bearded—civilizations. Their shapes recall the menhirs of Stonehenge and the Winged Bulls from Assyrian palaces. The beard is the ageless symbol of manhood…It is the memory of these archetypes that Dubuffet now evokes” (Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 149).

Property from the Private Collection of William Harris Smith, Chicago


Barbe des bourreaux de Paris

signed and dated "J. Dubuffet 59" lower center; further titled, inscribed and dated "D40 Barbe des bourreaux de Paris mai 59" on the reverse
ink and paper collage on paper
20 1/8 x 13 1/8 in. (51 x 33.3 cm.)
Executed in May 1959.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $350,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue