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  • Overview

    ‘The Théâtres de mémoire attack habits, attack notions pulled from the dictionary. They insist on confusion, on the richness of our perceptions. They underline the instability of things.’ —Gilbert LascaultAt once visually immersive and conceptually radiant, Jean Dubuffet’s oeuvre amounts to an anthology of its own. Comprising a number of series that have become iconic to connoisseurs and the general public alike — Portraits, Corps de Dame, Paris Circus, L’Hourloupe, and Théâtres de mémoire — the artist’s opus functions like a narrative to unfold, tracing his personal evolution and meanderings as he lived through various cultural shifts and artistic breakthroughs. A masterpiece of unique tonal and compositional discernment, and achieved on an exceptionally large scale, La féconde journée belongs to the artist’s Théâtres de mémoire series, which he began in September 1975 and continued working on until August 1978. This series presented, according to Dubuffet, ‘multiple recollections of places and scenes, which at any given moment, jostle in our memory’.1  The present work elucidates this sense of dynamism and abundance compositionally, as the image displays passages of movement and activity, but also eponymously, as its title translates to ‘The fruitful day’. Within the painting, a number of anthropomorphic silhouettes are idiosyncratically layered atop one another, in Dubuffet’s immediately recognisable palette of reds and blues. Rendered in vivid hues and in larger-than-life dimensions, the composition absorbs the viewer into its unique topography of proliferating personnages, thrusting their vision into a magical, fantasy realm that is redolent of metropolitan intensity and grandeur.

     

    Installation shot from Paris, Centre Pompidou, Jean Dubuffet, 12 September–31 December, 2001. Image: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.
    Installation shot from Paris, Centre Pompidou with the present work hung to the far left, Jean Dubuffet, 12 September–31 December, 2001. Image: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.

     

    Included in Dubuffet’s major centenary retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2001 — the first substantial monographic exhibition of the artist’s work in France since his show at the Grand Palais in 1973 — La féconde journée is an exquisite, museum-quality example of his revolutionary opus. With its heightened sensitivity to colour, form, and raw human physiology, the work is a testament to Dubuffet’s unique sensibility towards humanity and urban spaces, ceaselessly astonishing and mesmerising to his audience. Further testifying to Dubuffet’s enduring significance in the canon of art, the artist’s oeuvre will once more be the subject of critical and institutional acclaim in Spring 2021, on the occasion of a major monographic exhibition taking place at the Barbican, London — the first major survey of his work in the United Kingdom for over 50 years.

  • La féconde journée: Slow Looking

  • Art Brut

    'I am convinced art has much to do with madness.'
    —Jean Dubuffet
    Coined by Dubuffet in 1947, Art Brut was the overarching concept that tied all of the artist’s painterly and sculptural creations. Produced mostly by outsiders, — madmen, prisoners and autodidacts — Art Brut derived from sentiments of solitude and an unmediated understanding of the world, subsequently materialised through ‘authentic creative impulses’. Striving to achieve such rawness in his own work, Dubuffet ceaselessly attempted to capture the essence of earthly images without latching onto their exact physiological aspects. This untraditional approach resulted in textured canvases depicting graffiti-like figures and shapes; coarse materiality saturated to the point of abstraction. In this perspective, Belgian art critic Max Loreau defined Dubuffet’s portraits, initiated in 1946, as ‘turbulently general’, conveying characters in vehement energy more so than in pictorial likeness. In the present work, Dubuffet has built upon the definition of Art Brut that characterised his work of the late 1940s, layering materials (44 sections precisely) to impart the composition with added impressions of movement and tumult.

     

    Jean Dubuffet, Portrait of Henri Michaux, 1947, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © 2021. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.
    Jean Dubuffet, Portrait of Henri Michaux, 1947, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © 2021. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.

    After Dubuffet had returned to Paris in the 1960s — he had lived in the countryside for seven years — he embarked upon an exciting new collection of works that betrayed his renewed energy, materialised in a singular type of figuration. While the artist’s previous paintings focused on substance and unbroken gestures, his Parisian scenes signaled movement, animated life, and joie de vivre. And, like Henri Matisse’s rebirth into collages, Dubuffet’s painted oeuvre naturally progressed into assemblages. These were achieved by rearranging bits of paintings collected in his atelier, subsequently layered atop a canvas amidst other materials. A vivid picture loaded with various colour and textures — some rough some smooth — La féconde journée forces the eye to look in all directions. As though dancing across the canvas, the artwork’s various camouflaged protagonists blur any sense of narratorial direction, producing an effect of ecstatic frenzy and dizzying unrest.

  • Théâtres de mémoire

  • Theatres of Memory

     

    Begun in September 1975, just a year before the execution of the present work, Dubuffet’s series Théâtres de mémoire represented a significant milestone in the artist’s career. Translating to ‘Theatres of Memory’, the series’ title and inspiration derived from Giulio Camillo’s eponymous phrase coined in the sixteenth-century — a theory documenting the development of mnemonics through an imagined physical space. Dubuffet discovered this concept in Frances Yates’s seminal 1966 book, The Art of Memory, where the author examined memory techniques used by orators such as Cicero to cognitively anchor tracts of rhetoric. Following this discovery, and on the heels of several highly prolific years, Dubuffet began creating random juxtapositions of figure and ground with existing drawings and paintings lifted from his studio. By situating already composed images into entirely new configurations, the artist materialised Yates’s precept that place and image can solidify memory, thereby allowing a new lease of life to past creations. About the series, Dubuffet noted: ‘These assemblages have mixtures of sites and scenes, which are the constituent parts of a moment of viewing. Viewing by the mind, let us say, if not the immediate viewing by the eyes… The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all fields; it makes them dance together’.2

    'Basquiat used to come in every other month to see my father and see what Dubuffets had come in. He used to come in and study them. He [Dubuffet] was such a huge influence.' —Marc Glimcher

    Containing some of the largest compositions Dubuffet ever made, the Théâtres de mémoire series would be the last sequence of paintings of this magnitude before the artist, suffering from back ailments, would be forced to focus on smaller-scale projects. Conceived on a larger-than-life scale, La féconde journée beautifully epitomises the artist’s grand creative intentions later in life, as well as his superior abilities that seemed to shine even more urgently as he gained artistic maturity. Notably, it was seeing Théâtres de mémoire at the Pace Gallery in New York in the late 1970s that first sparked Jean-Michel Basquiat’s deep engagement with Dubuffet’s Art Brut, the impact of works such as the present one coursing through Basquiat’s own revolutionary idiom. A timeless testament to this dialogue between two masters, La féconde journée was included in Pace Wildenstein’s two-artist exhibition Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories in 2006.

     

    Jean Michel Basquiat, Moon View, 1984, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, The Broad Art Foundation, California.  Image: © 2021. Adagp Images, Paris, / SCALA, Florence. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.
    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Moon View, 1984, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, The Broad Art Foundation, California. Image: © 2021. Adagp Images, Paris, / SCALA, Florence. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.

     

    Dubuffet and The City

     

    Deeply vested with the concepts of architecture and urban fabric, Dubuffet frequently created landscapes brimming with characters that seemed to reference the density and bustling environment of the city. As expressed by the writer Sophie Berrebi, specifically with regard to the present series, ‘Although the series entitled ‘Théâtres de mémoire’ (1975 – 79) […] is not explicitly about the metropolis, the way in which the works in this cycle juxtapose heterogeneous scenes, moments, and patterns to create large pictures always seems to me to evoke a certain idea of the contemporary city: fragmented, busy, and discontinuous, yet interconnected through invisible networks’.3 In La féconde journée, the mingling of anthropomorphic silhouettes with abstract vertical forms suggests the interaction between humans and modern buildings; equally, these geometric shapes tend to foreshadow the symbol of the ladder that became so present in Basquiat’s work, equally pulsating to the rhythm of fast-paced city networks.

    'These assemblages have mixtures of sites and scenes, which are the constituent parts of a moment of viewing… The mind totalises; it recapitulates all fields; it makes them dance together. It shuffles them, exchanges them, everything is astir.' —Jean Dubuffet

    Jean Dubuffet in Basel, July 1976. Photograph: Kurt Wyss. © Kurt Wyss.
    Jean Dubuffet at his studio at Rue de Vaugirard in Paris, July 1976. Photograph: © Kurt Wyss.

    Interestingly, a letter that Dubuffet wrote in 1978 elucidates the relationship between the artist’s lifelong fascination for urban spaces and his own thought process; it reads: ‘It is impossible not to contradict oneself, just as it is impossible to avoid collisions on paths that have only one slope, but one must organise thoughts following the model of the circulation of cars in Tokyo, with lanes that are superimposed onto one another and on which traffic is organised in different directions’.4 Using urban arrangements as inspiration for the compartmentalising of his own creative thoughts, Dubuffet would then materialise his synaesthetic sense of order through overlapping materials. In the present work, 44 sections of paper are interwoven on the same canvas surface; together, they convey the many layers that define city landscapes.

     

    Dubuffet in Conversation

     

    In this 1973 interview, Mimi Poser speaks with Jean Dubuffet, along with Guggenheim director Thomas Messer and Brooke Lappin. In the opening minutes of the talk, Mimi Poser quotes Thomas Messer stating that Dubuffet is ‘one of, if not the most important artist of the 20th century’. 

     

     

    1 Jean Dubuffet, quoted in ‘Jean Dubuffet. Theatres of Memory’, Wall Street International, 10 August 2017, online.

    2 Jean Dubuffet quoted in Jean Dubuffet: Théâtres de mémoire, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1977, n. p.
    3 Sophie Berrebi, ‘Dubuffet and the City: People, Place, and Urban Space’, Hauser & Wirth, reproduced online.
    4 Sophie Berrebi, ‘Dubuffet and the City: People, Place, and Urban Space’, Hauser & Wirth, reproduced online.

    • Provenance

      The Pace Gallery, New York
      Mr and Mrs Jöel Ehrenkranz, New York
      Mr Robert Meyerhoff, Baltimore
      Muriel and Howard Weingrow, New York
      Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Pace Gallery, J. Dubuffet: recent work 1974-1976, 23 March - 23 April 1977 (illustrated)
      Paris, Centre Pompidou, Jean Dubuffet, Exposition du Centenaire, 13 September - 21 December 2001, p. 295 (illustrated)
      New York, Pace Wildenstein, Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, 28 April - 17 June 2006, pp. 28, 54 (illustrated, p. 29)
      New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Picasso and The School of Paris, 19 November 2006 - 4 February 2007, p. 29 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XXXII: Théâtres de mémoire, Paris, 1982, no. 21, pp. 30, 202, 205 (illustrated, p. 30)
      Martine Viet, Agir en artiste avec Jean Dubuffet, Laon, 1996, p. 87 (illustrated)

Property from a Distinguished American Collection

11

La féconde journée

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'J.D. 76' lower right; titled and numbered 'no 21 La féconde journée' on the reverse; numbered 'no 21' on the stretcher
acrylic on paper collage on canvas
204.5 x 210.5 cm (80 1/2 x 82 7/8 in.)
Executed on 16 May 1976.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£1,500,000 - 2,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £4,378,500

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021