Jean Dubuffet - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Kobacker Steubenville, Ohio
    Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 28 October 1970, lot 64
    Dr. Irving Stoner (acquiredfrom the above sale)
    Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (1975)
    Marisa del Re Gallery, Inc., New York
    Waddington Galleries, London
    Mr. and Mrs. George Bloch, Hong Kong
    Private Collection, Connecticut
    Sotheby's New York, 'Impressionist & Modern Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture', 8 November 1994, lot 42
    Acquiredfrom the above sale
    Sotheby's New York, 'Collection of Stanley J. Seeger', 8 May 2001, lot 35
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Dubuffet Paintings – Assemblages d’Empreintes, 21 February-17 March 1956, no.16
    Hannover, Kestner Gesellschaft; Zürich Kunsthaus, Jean Dubuffet, 26 October-4 December 1960, no.62
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, 19 February-8 April 1962, then travelled to The Art Institute of Chicago (11 May-17 June 1962); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (10 July-12 August 1962)
    London, Tate Gallery, Dubuffet Paintings, 23 April-30 May 1966, no.72
    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet, 26 April-29 July 1973, then travelled to Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais (27 September-20 December 1973), no. 76
    New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Dubuffet, A Selection, 27 September - 29 October 1975, no.16

  • Literature

    Petr Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p.114 (illustrated)
    Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XI: Charettes, Jardins, Personnages Monolithes, Lausanne, 1969, no.76, p.64, pl.76 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    This work by the French artist Jean Dubuffet, created in 1955, is a superb example of his Paysages of the 1950s. It is also a perfect illustration of his life-long struggle to connect his own art with the profoundest origins of man and earth. Le Chien Rodeur (the prowler dog) exemplifies Dubuffet’s concept of Art Brut: a savage and untamed form of expression which, just as the dog here, wanders through the twists and turns of the human mind bringing to the surface its most primitive and raw essence.

    Dubuffet’s passion for the tactile qualities of art, its texture and materiality, evolved into the use of materials such as sand, glass, and tar – an awareness of materials that generally characterized the Art Informel movement of the time. Most strikingly, Le Chien Rodeur comprises densely applied layers of paint on canvas, subsequently incised with deep lines, creating a bas-relief in the surface of contoured impasto. This work reveals a unique stylistic continuum in Dubuffet’s œuvre, of conjuring life through carving into or out of his materials. This painting is reminiscent of the artist’s earlier work in high-relief, Pierre brise-loguique (pour exercises philosophiques), 1952, in which abstract forms are interpreted through the opaque strata of oil on canvas, conjuring ancient scenes of chiselled stone or bronze cast. Here, the artist combines sumptuous earth tones with a charming little character, mischievous and amusing. As in many of his Paysage works, Dubuffet populated his canvases with figures and animals alike, inhabiting his paintings with a sense of verve and appreciation for the everyday. Further exploring this theme in his sculptures, aptly titled Petites statues de la vie précaire (Little statues of precarious life), Dubuffet engaged with found materials such as steel wool, charcoal, newspaper, sponges, debris from a burned-out car, and grapevines, in order to create small figures or heads, often endearing, which display a sense of the transitory and sensitivity to their surrounding.

    Le Chien Rodeur, like the sculptures developed just a year before, embodies the fragility and randomness of life. Dubuffet succeeds in conveying this precariousness along with a vivid sense of the tenacity of his little dog. While the title of the work connotes an action, we find his dog standing in place at the very top centre of the composition against a clear blue skyline, a small animal on the move and in a state of survival. Its expressive eyes, ears and tail reveal an attentive posture equally found in the manner of Dubuffet’s farmers, field workers, and other human figures; finding contentment in their natural surroundings. The term rodeur not only signifies prowling but also implies a state of drifting, a sense of displacement projected by the collective consciousness of postwar Europe, a reaction to an unprecedented wretchedness and violence. In this way, one can interpret Le Chien Rodeur as a self-portrait of sorts, encapsulating the moment Dubuffet chose to let go of his prosperous livelihood in order to focus on his art, wandering the South of France, the Sahara, and even the United States before creating this painting. In fact, the very ground under this little dog’s paws, which engulfs the composition, can be compared to the metaphorical expanse located in Chinese landscape painting, expressing a withdrawal from social disintegration, communing with nature and privileging a natural hierarchy rather than an intellectual hierarchy.

    Dubuffet created scenes of everyday life that reveal the artist’s salt-of-the-earth personality as much as they show bucolic landscapes. To this, we can incorporate notions of early creation stories, the creator producing life forms out of soil, and the renewal of existence. Indeed, there is a distinct overarching and omniscient force at work in Dubuffet’s paintings, possessing a "narrative look to it but no sense of movement in time or of consistent period and place" (P. Schjeldahl, ‘1942 and After: Jean Dubuffet in His Century’, in Jean Dubuffet 1943–1963, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, p. 15). The significance of earth and natural elements in Dubuffet’s work is particularly clear in his biological works and garden paintings as it is in his later series, Texturologies (1957–58), which recreated the textures of soil. Gardens became a prominent subject matter for Dubuffet throughout 1955 and 1956. In Madame au jardin (Madame in the garden), 1956, the artist assembled elements of previously painted canvases, cut up and applied to the canvas in order to suggest plants and flowers. In Le Chien Rodeur, we find a similar topography, the earth is suggested through a patchwork-like strata of flowers and soil.

    At the age of 41, Dubuffet became a professional artist at a time when the postwar debate between figuration and abstraction was animating the art worlds of both europe and America. Dubuffet repudiated any type of high-brow art or culture. Influenced by the art of the COBRA group as well as the literary works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Dr. Hans Prinzhorn (who was analysing connections between the art of the mentally ill and that of children), Dubuffet’s attention focused instead on that art which was free of cultural reference or influence and born exclusively of the mind’s own creativity – a product which he called ‘brut’: "Art made by professional specialists, I find it ninteresting. It is the production of art emanating from persons foreign to the specialized circles and elaborated by those shielded from any influence, in a completely spontaneous and immediate way, that interests me" (Dubuffet, ‘In Honour of Savage Values’, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 46, ‘Polemical Objects’, Autumn 2004, p. 259).

    Highly educated and naturally immersed in his culture, Dubuffet never intended to be labelled an Art Brut artist. nevertheless, during his career he attempted to ‘prowl’ throughout the modern world in search of an original, authentic form of art with a hunger for artistic truth. this insatiable desire to reproduce perceptions of the everyday is what situates him among the most important artists of the mid-twentieth century. Through his legacy, Dubuffet influenced innumerable artists, including the artistic genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat, known for adopting a neo-expressionist or primitive style in his approach.

    Certainly the sense of immediacy found in Basquiat’s painting and drawing radiates with the inventiveness of Dubuffet’s style, doodle- like paintings and drawings often brimming with colour. Both artists exhibit a direct relationship to their environments, drawing simultaneously on the small daily encounters in life as much as they reveal historical lineages of art-making. Basquiat and Dubuffet drew on populist themes, albeit in very different times and places. While Dubuffet’s dog is imagined prowling the uninhibited French landscape, Basquiat’s Untitled (Dog), 1982, is imagined in an urban environment, stalking beneath the constellations of night sky, almost hovering above the cold concrete, its bestial attributes heightened by a menacing grin and fixed gaze.

    The importance of these seemingly innocuous depictions is directly related to the artists’ realities, reverberations of feelings and memories shaped by their social circumstances. Unpacking the unique quality of his work, Dubuffet states: "What seems interesting to me is to reproduce in the figurative representation of an object the whole complex system of impressions we receive in the normal course of everyday life, the way this affects our feelings and the shape it takes in our memory; and it is to this that I have always applied myself" (Jean Dubuffet, in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Vol. II, Jean Dubuffet, Gallimard, Paris, 1967, p. 103). In this way, Le Chien Rodeur, 1955, much like Basquiat’s Untitled (Dog), 1982, is an embodiment of a reality of nature which is both chaotic and resplendent.


Le Chien Rodeur

oil on canvas
81 x 99.5 cm (31 7/8 x 39 1/8 in)
Signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 55' upper left; further signed, titled and dated 'Vence, août '55' on the reverse.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £325,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013