Jean Dubuffet - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips

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  • From the dawn of his artistic career to his twilight years, Jean Dubuffet relentlessly pushed his practice to new heights. It was in 1975 that Dubuffet embarked upon a new body of work with a vigor and force that wholly belied his 76 years of age. Painted in August 1975, Site aux trois arbres is among the paintings started that summer that encapsulate the daring inventiveness, palpable lightheartedness and energy with which Dubuffet began a revolutionary new chapter in his oeuvre.


    Bold lines rove across the radiantly colored canvas, their energetic dance rendering visible the “scene with three trees” the work's title Site aux trois arbres puts forth. As part of the series Lieux abrégés ("abbreviated places”), the present work speaks of the key turning point in Dubuffet’s career that would usher in the seminal cycle Théâtres de mémoire, the last major series in the artist's last decade of life.


    Remaining in the same private collection for decades, Site aux trois arbres was notably first unveiled to the public in 1976 when it was selected for inclusion in the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, dedicated solely to Dubuffet’s new work grouped into the sub-series Parachiffres, mondanités and Lieux abrégés. Dubuffet had garnered widespread international acclaim for his work at the time, exhibiting at such museums as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Kunstmuseum Basel.


    This could not have been anticipated by Dubuffet when he fully committed himself to an artistic career some three decades earlier in 1942. Driven by his fascination with the raw and unmediated nature of outsider art, Dubuffet, then in his forties, began developing his art brut aesthetic—a daring attack on all painterly convention that saw him rupture traditional approaches to portraiture, cityscape and landscape, and pioneer the use of unconventional materials and techniques.


    Dubuffet’s exuberant late work


    Exuberant and radiating with pure color, Site aux trois arbres exemplifies the heightened sense of liberation and lightheartedness that distinguished Dubuffet’s output ever since his return to the vibrant metropolis of Paris from the countryside in 1961. Starting with his celebrated Paris Circus series,1961-1962, an intoxicating energy and unbridled joie-de-vivre becomes the driving force of Dubuffet’s late work—as evidenced in the playfulness of the L’Hourloupe cycle, 1962-1974, and the explosion of form and color in the Lieux abrégés and its related series.


    Having exhausted the possibilities of the L’Hourloupe cycle in 1975, Dubuffet in his new body of work began to further develop his methodological spontaneity of drawing all the while embracing a heightened use of color. In works such as Site aux trois arbres, loosely drawn, searching lines and liberally applied color build up indeterminate spaces that are animated by crudely drawn figures. The trees giving Site aux trois arbres its name slip in and out of the viewer's visual grasp; at times, they resemble the cellular L’Hourloupe tree sculptures, while other times they merge into an abstracted network of lines. 


    “Abbreviated” in that they eschew specificity, Dubuffet's Lieux abrégés mimic the disjointedness of everyday life and the subjectivity of our visual perception—translating the frenzied action of the earlier Paris Circus cityscapes into more abstract, metaphorical places. The viewer’s eye roves the canvas, piecing together the individual elements in a manner that parallels the ways in which we process the discordant stimuli of everyday life. As Dubuffet indeed put forth, "In any single instant the eyes see only a side facing them, they converge on a small field. The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all the fields; it makes them dance together…Perhaps we live in a world invented by ourselves…”i


    i Jean Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1987, p. 19

    • Provenance

      The Pace Gallery, New York
      B.C. Holland, Inc., Chicago (acquired by 1979)
      Private Collection, St. Louis (acquired from the above)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, J. Dubuffet, Parachiffres, mondanités et autres peintures de 1975, January 23 - February 23, 1976, no. 95, n.p.

    • Literature

      Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XXX: Parachiffres, Mondanités, Lieux abrégés, Paris, 1980, no. 207, p. 136 (illustrated, p. 94)

Property from a Distinguished Midwestern Collection


Site aux trois arbres

signed with the artist's initials and dated "J.D. 75" upper right; titled and inscribed "T73 Site aux 3 arbres" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
36 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (92 x 73 cm)
Painted on August 5, 1975.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $541,800

Contact Specialist

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

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020