Jean Dubuffet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Stephen Hahn Gallery, New York
    Mr. and Mrs. David Schreiber, Quebec
    William Beadleton Inc., New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Merians, New York
    Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, March 28, 1984, lot 263
    Waddington Galleries, Ltd., London
    Private Collection, United States
    Christian Fayt Art Gallery, Knokke-Heist
    Briest Scp., Paris, December 13, 1997, lot 63
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Stephen Hahn Gallery, Contemporary Trends, November 14 - December 16, 1961, n.p. (illustrated, titled La Mine Orange)
    Kunsthalle Schirn Frankfurt, Jean Dubuffet, 1901-1985, December 12, 1990 - March 3, 1991, no. 74, p. 246 (illustrated, p. 69)

  • Literature

    Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule VI: Corps de dames, Paris, 1987, no. 10, p. 19 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted in March 1950, Jean Dubuffet’s Mademoiselle mine orange is one of a handful of female portraits the artist created in the months leading up to his highly acclaimed series Corps de dames. The heavily impastoed work is a quintessential example of Dubuffet’s revolutionary attack on all conventions. Characteristically covering the surface with a mortar-like mixture, Dubuffet spreads, scrapes, and scores the rich pigment to create an immensely variegated topography from which emerges a powerful portrait. Drawing the viewer in with its raw immediacy and unusual chromatic vibrancy, but also humorous undertones, the crudely etched portrait depicts a woman with a wide-eyed stare, toothy grimace and loop-like hair that would come to characterize many of the figures in Dubuffet's Corps de dames shortly after. This will be the first time that Mademoiselle mine orange will be shown publically since its inclusion in Dubuffet's seminal retrospective at Kunsthalle Schirn, Frankfurt, in 1990-1991.

    The female portraits Dubuffet created between January 1950 and February 1951 are widely celebrated as the culmination of his unorthodox take on the long tradition of portraiture in art history. Dubuffet cultivated an interest in the subject matter early on – almost exclusively creating portraits of his wife Emilie (Lili) Carlue in the mid-1930s – and turned to the subject with renewed vigor and a radical material-based approach upon fully committing himself to a career as an artist in 1942. While Dubuffet had consistently depicted women in portraiture throughout the 1940s, the present work marked the beginning of the artist’s most intense engagement with the theme. Dubuffet's output in 1950-1951 is largely demarcated into two predominantly concurrent series: the Intermèdes, which he began in January 1950, and the Corps de dames, which followed in April that same year. While the latter consists of works exclusively depicting female nudes in a similar, splayed out form, the Intermèdes encompasses a broader range of subjects and compositions, mostly male and female portraits, but also a small grouping of still-lifes.

    Mademoiselle mine orange belongs to the sub-group of female portraits within the Intermèdes series that both thematically and formally directly relate to the Corps de dames. In the choice of this female subject-matter, Dubuffet was essentially taking up a century-old tradition only to attack it from within. As Dubuffet explained, “When I asked myself what brought me to this subject, so typical of the worst painting, I think it is, in part, because the female body, of all the objects in the world, is the one that has long been associated (for Occidentals) with a very specious notion of beauty (inherited from the Greeks and cultivated by the magazine covers); now it pleases me to protest against this aesthetic, which I find miserable and most depressing. Surely I aim for a beauty, but not that one” (Jean Dubuffet, 1953, quoted in Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, p. 64). Rejecting the classical conventions of beauty, artistic skill, and likeness, Dubuffet puts forth a deliberately raw portrait that reflects the “art brut” aesthetic the artist sought to convey in his own art.

    Dubuffet’s profound belief that art should be a direct reflection of emotion and instinct, rather than a product of training or convention, powerfully figures in portraits such as the present one. Since the end of World War II, Dubuffet had pursued an anti-civilized, "raw”, or "primitivist" cultural project in his painting, writing, and collecting. Dubuffet took as his model not an aesthetic notion of beauty propagated by the fine arts tradition, but rather qualities he found in the art of non-Western cultures, as well as such non-professional “outsiders” as psychiatric patients, prisoners, and children.

    Seen in this light, the caricature-like portrait of Mademoiselle mine orange comes to more closely resemble the graffiti one might find carved into a white plaster wall, while the medley of burnt orange, pink and coral pigments conjures primordial cave paintings — the latter association strengthened by Dubuffet’s fascination with the Lascaux caves discovered in 1940. The strong presence of orange color – unusual for Dubuffet’s mostly subdued color palette at the time and even more vibrant than that of Gymnosophie, 1950, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris — also recalls earlier works such as the gouache Arabe aux palmiers, 1948, which was inspired by the cultures and materials Dubuffet encountered traveling in the Sahara in the late 1940s.

    It is revealing that Dubuffet chose titles that denote a very particular subject: these are not simply women or nudes, rather they are identified as “Corps de dame” (lady's body), or as “fiancée”, “jeune fille” (“young girl”), or “mademoiselle” (“miss” or “unmarried lady”), among others. In doing so, Dubuffet situates his subjects in the contemporary realm of his time— alluding to the societal expectations and conventions connected to these roles. If in his Corps de dames, the women display their naked bodies without shame akin to earth goddesses, the mademoiselle depicted in the present work appears much more demure — the bulbous contours, bow and two buttons suggesting a dress befitting for an unmarried young woman.

    Seen in this light, Mademoiselle mine orange is heir to Dubuffet’s breakthrough series of “society portraits" that he created of friends and acquaintances between 1946 and 1947. Based solely on observation at Parisian social gatherings he frequented, Dubuffet gave this body of work the ironic collective title Plus beaux qu’ils croient ("More beautiful than they believe"). The Intermèdes portraits appear to continue the sly mockery of vanity and beauty, a notion that becomes apparent in tongue-in-cheek titles such as Le grain de beauté (Tete de jeune fille lilas), (“beauty spot”), Minaudeuse, or Mademoiselle couperose. There is certainly an element of social critique in these portraits, a fundamental questioning of the value Western culture attaches to the classical notions of beauty.

    While Dubuffet’s portraits were initially received as a provocation and attack on the female body, his was ultimately an assault on the conventions of painting. Dubuffet completely abandoned the traditional objective of conveying depth on the two-dimensional canvas through painterly technique. As he proclaimed, “let us seek instead ingenious ways to flatten objects on the surface; and let the surface speak its own language of three-dimensional space which is not proper to it” (Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Hubert Damisch, Jean Dubuffet: Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, vol. I, Paris, 1967, p. 74). To this end, Dubuffet had since 1946 developed a haute pâte technique, whereby he would pour a mixture of pigment, paint, sand, tar and other materials onto a horizontally placed surface — preceding Jackson Pollock’s drip technique, as well as Alberto Burri’s material realism.

    In Mademoiselle mine orange and its related works, Dubuffet was pushing this approach to new extremes; with them, he was further developing the encrusted and inscribed surfaces and aerial point of view of his landscape paintings from the preceding Paysages grotesques series, 1949, to suit the technique and pictorial format of these portraits. Exploring the relationship between motif and ground, Dubuffet presents the female subject as excavated matter — her contours flattened down and physiognomy rendered with lines as though drawn in the sand. While conjuring the metaphor of the body as a landscape, the heavily worked surface also imbues the painting with a sculptural quality and draws attention to the physicality of the canvas.

    In his approach to using abstract means to create a female portrait, Dubuffet was working in unwitting parallel with Willem de Kooning, one of the stalwarts of Abstract Expressionism, who had begun working on Woman I in the same year. Dubuffet’s radical investigation into issues of form, space, and materiality resonated strongly with the New York art world, to the extent that engagement with his work was more intense in the United States than any other country at the time, including France.

    While the art dealer Pierre Matisse was the first to exhibit Dubuffet’s work in New York in January 1947, Mademoiselle mine orange reveals the significant role that the Sidney Janis Gallery had in building Dubuffet’s presence in the New York art world. Not only was Sidney Janis crucial in placing his work in private and institutional American collections, he also introduced his work to a burgeoning generation of New York artists. Janis is widely acclaimed for exhibiting the work of acknowledged European masters, including Dubuffet but also Picasso and Matisse, alongside that of then emerging artists such as Pollock and de Kooning. It is perhaps only apt that Mademoiselle mine orange returns to New York after remaining in a distinguished European collection for the past two decades.

    A year after the present work was created, Dubuffet held a lecture at the Arts Club Chicago, which synthesized the central tenets of his “art brut” project. Mademoiselle mine orange powerfully embodies Dubuffet’s claim that, once classical notions of beauty both in art and culture are discarded, “Art, then, returns to its real function, which is much more significant than creating shapes and colors agreeable for the so-called pleasure of the eyes…Art addresses itself to the mind, and not to the eyes” (Jean Dubuffet, “Anticultural Positions”, 1951, in Kristine Stiles, ed., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings, Berkeley, 1996, pp. 195-196).

Property of a European Collector


Mademoiselle mine orange

signed and dated "J. Dubuffet 1950" upper left
oil on Masonite
28 3/4 x 23 3/4 in. (73 x 60.3 cm.)
Painted in March 1950.

$1,800,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,755,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018