Jean Fautrier - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'One does no more than reinvent what already exists. One restores, with hints of emotion, the reality that is embodied in material, in form, in colour' —Jean Fautrier 

    Executed in a soft palette of pinks, creams, and blues, I’m Falling in Love belongs to an important group of paintings by Jean Fautrier that effortlessly fuse erotic lyricism with technical virtuosity. Very closely related to a series of pink nudes similarly executed on a light blue ground that preoccupied Fautrier during the mid-1950s, the present work marries the artist’s interest in the female form with his love of American Jazz, belonging as it does to the series of works titled after famous jazz tracks of the era. A paradigmatic example of the French artist’s significant contribution to post-war abstraction and Art Informel, I’m falling in Love is also a joyous exploration of the compositional possibilities presented by jazz, and a tribute to the artist’s great passion for this experimental approach to music. 

    Coming to auction from a distinguished private collection, I’m Falling in Love has an exceptional exhibition history, included in Fautrier’s major 1989 retrospective at the Musée d’art modern de Paris and included in the landmark 1996 L’informe: mode d’emploi exhibition at the Centre nationale d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou. The present work was also among the selection chosen to represent Fautrier at the XXX Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, in 1960, where he was awarded the grand prize. 


    Haute pâte and l’informe 


    Signalling a radical break with painterly convention in the wake of the World War II, Fautrier began experimenting with innovative, highly tactile approaches to painting, inventing a new technique that replaced traditional application of oil with haute pâte constructions. 
    'This is what you want to know: the canvas is now merely a support for the paper. The thick paper is covered with sometimes thick layers of plaster – the picture is painted on this moist plaster – this plaster makes the paint adhere to the paper perfectly – it has the virtue of fixing the colours in powder, crushed pastels, gouache, ink, and also oil paint – it is above all thanks to these coats of plaster that the mixture can be produced so well and the quality of the matter is achieved.' —Jean Fautrier

    Utterly revolutionary, this approach involved a total reimagining of the nature of the painting itself, with the surface of the canvas transformed into the support for the thick paste constructions built up upon it.


    Jean Fautrier, Head of a Hostage No 14, 1944, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California. © NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

    Corresponding to the shocking immediacy and visceral nature of this method, described by New York Times critic Michael Brenson  as ‘patches and clots of matter […] that almost seem to have been shot at the canvas’, Fautrier first developed his haute pâte method in a troubling series of abstract portraits of victims of Nazi atrocities.i Produced while hiding from the Gestapo in a psychiatric asylum outside Paris, the works register a brutality in their method and treatment of form that seems to correspond to their subject. When first presented in 1945 at the artist’s Otages exhibition, the restlessly inventive Jean Dubuffet immediately recognised a kindred spirit who shared in his ‘veritable passion for the materiality of the painted surface and a taste for experimentation with materials alien to painterly tradition’.ii So affected at the purity of his contemporary’s expression and the manner of its execution, he began to adopt a similar approach to materials, mixing in non-traditional elements such as sand, glass, and mud into paint to create a thick paste that he applied directly to the canvas with painting knives and spatulas in what would prove to be a breakthrough development for the artist, and for L’art Informel more broadly. Together the two artists demonstrated a shared commitment to the pursuit of a new pictorial language rooted in materiality, with these thick impasto pastes emerging as the determining element for both during these years. 


    Jean Dubuffet, The Jewish Woman, October 1950, The Museum of Modern Art, New York ©2021. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021
    Jean Dubuffet, Path Bordered by Grass, 1956, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New YorK.© 2021. Albright Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

    Given a thorough academic treatment in the 1996 Musée d’Arte Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou exhibition L’Informe: mode d’emploi, where the present work was exhibited, Arte Informel borrows from French philosopher Georges Bataille’s notion of l’informe, that which not only describes formlessness, but creates it: 'A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus l'informe is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form […] Affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider, or spit.' 
    —Georges Bataille

    While this description resonates especially with the Otages depictions of human brutality, Bataille also expands his discussion to include the free-forms of improvisational jazz and music-hall performances. In this sense, l’informe is not simple the destruction of form, but the action involved in taking it apart, as is wonderfully evoked in I’m Falling in Love


    Fautrier and Jazz


    In dramatic contrast to the difficult subject matter and corresponding heaviness of the Otages portraits, I’m Falling in Love is suffused with soft light and a miraculous lightness of touch given its thickly textured surface. Demonstrating incredible flexibility and versatility in his approach, Fautrier is able to transform his method to communicate the sombre heaviness and violence used to such effect in the Otages, to the remarkable sensuality and lightness that we find in Falling in Love.


    Detail of the present work

    Working with the unpredictable nature of his paste technique and perfectly in tune with the shifting textures that it generated, Fautrier applied his thick paste onto the paper, roughly shaping it with a palette knife. Over the cracked and uneven surface, he applied powdery blue and pink pigments, drawing out the forms that emerged with a brush to create the sensual curves and suggestively shapely aspect adopted by his nudes. This responsive, intuitive dimension to Fautrier’s practice compares directly to the improvisational and collaborative elements of jazz composition, as one instrument develops a theme picked up developed by another. 

    An avid collector of Jazz records, Fautrier had spent the years in the lead up to the World War II in Savoy, working as a ski instructor by day and running a jazz club by night. Honing his haute pâte method, Fautrier developed a medium to explore form, rhythm, and texture in a way that interacts directly with his deep understanding of the (structures) syncopated patterns of jazz. As well as generating a certain synaesthesia in its blend of colour, touch, and rhythm, I’m Falling In Love replicates the sensations of jazz as the passages of think impasto read like sudden shifts in syncopation, the looping central pink ribbon like the swirling eddy of a saxophone holding the composition together. 

    With English titles that reference specific songs by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Miles Davies, and Coleman Hawkins and featuring ‘bodies suspended in the imminence of their disappearance’, these works form an important series in Fautrier’s oeuvre, a joyful antidote to the horrors explored in the Otages and striking a note of optimism for things to come.iii 

  • Selection of other works from Fautrier’s Jazz series


    i Michael Brenson, ‘Jean Fautrier, France’s Caustic Outsider, New York Times, 22 August 1989, online 
    ii Marianne Jakobi, ‘Exhibiting Matterist Paintings in the Immediate Post-War Period: Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet in their Historical’, Jean Fautrier: Matière et lumièr (exh. cat.), Musée d’Art modern de la Ville de Paris, 2018, p. 145. 
    iii Fabrice Hergott, Preface, Jean Fautrier : Matière et lumièr (exh. cat.), Musée d’Art modern de la Ville de Paris, 2018, p. 7. 

    • Provenance

      Sami Tarica, Paris
      Christie's, London, 28 June 1983, lot 452
      Private Collection, Geneva
      Philippe Morane, Paris (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, London, 20 June 2007, lot 66
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Leverkussen, Städtisches Museum, Schloss Morsbroich, Jean Fautrier, 11 November - 30 December 1958 (titled as Nu)
      XXX Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, Jean Fautrier, grand prix international, 18 June - 16 October 1960, no. 79, p. 153
      Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Fautrier 1898-1964, 25 May - 24 September 1989, no. 139, p. 139 (illustrated)
      Paris, Galerie de France, Collection Particulière Paris, 4 October - 10 December 1994, p. 211 (illustrated, p. 73)
      Barcelona, Fundación ”la Caixa”; Vienna, Künstlerhaus, Europa de Postguerra 1945-1965 arte después del diluvio, 12 May - 10 December 1995, no. 30, pp. 44, 455 (illustrated, p. 45)
      Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, L'informe: mode d'emploi, 22 May - 26 August 1996, p. 245 (illustrated, p. 109)
      Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Red over Yellow: A Selection from a Private Collection, 21 June - 2 December 2017, pp. 10, 154, 156 (installation view illustrated, p. 152; illustrated, p. 155)

    • Literature

      Palma Bucarelli, Jean Fautrier, pittura e materia, Milan, 1960, no. 323, p. 348 (illustrated, p. 349)
      Giulio Carlo Argan, Fautrier ''matière et mémoire'', Milan 1960, n.p. (illustrated; titled as Nudo)
      Yves Peyré, Fautrier ou les outrages de l'impossible, Paris, 1990, p. 431 (illustrated, p. 263)

Property from a Distinguished Collection


I'm falling in Love

signed and dated 'Fautrier 57' lower right
oil on paper laid on canvas
89 x 116 cm (35 x 45 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1957.

This work will be included in the forthcoming Jean Fautrier catalogue raisonné being prepared by Marie-José Lefort, Geneva.

Full Cataloguing

£800,000 - 1,200,000 ‡♠

Sold for £760,600

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021