Jean Dubuffet

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Jean Dubuffet
20070624 Dubuffet - Court les rues.JPG
Jean Dubuffet, Court les rues, 1962, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI. An example of a non-painterly Dubuffet painting
Born (1901-07-31)31 July 1901
Le Havre, France
Died 12 May 1985(1985-05-12) (aged 83)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Known for Painting, Sculpture

Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (31 July 1901 – 12 May 1985) was a French painter and sculptor. His idealistic approach to aesthetics embraced so called "low art" and eschewed traditional standards of beauty in favor of what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to image-making.

Life and work[edit]

Dubuffet was born in Le Havre to a family of wholesale wine merchants who were part of the wealthy bourgeoisie.[1] He moved to Paris in 1918 to study painting at the Académie Julian, becoming close friends with the artists Juan Gris, André Masson, and Fernand Léger. Six months later, he left the Académie to study independently. In 1924, doubting the value of art, he stopped painting and took over his father's business selling wine. He took up painting again in the 1930s when he made a large series of portraits in which he emphasized the vogues in art history. But again he stopped, developing his wine business at Bercy during the German Occupation of France. Years later, in an autobiographical text, he boasted having made substantial profits by supplying wine to the Wehrmacht.[2] In 1942, he decided to devote himself to art, painting figures of nude women in an impersonal and primitive way, in strong and unbroken colours. He chose subjects from everyday life such as people sitting in the Paris Métro or just walking in the country. His first solo show came in 1944.

In 1945 he was strongly impressed by a show in Paris of Jean Fautrier's paintings in which he recognized meaningful art which expressed directly and purely the depth of a person. As did Fautrier he started to use thick oil paint, but mixed with sand and gravel, by which he could model the paint as a skin of the painting. This resulted in the series 'Hautes Pâtes', which he exhibited in 1946 at the Galérie René Drouin. After 1946 he started a series of portraits, with as 'model' partly his own friends Henri Michaux, Francis Ponge, Jean Paulhan and Pierre Matisse. He painted these portraits in the same thick materials, and in a manner deliberately anti-psychological and anti-personal, as Dubuffet expressed himself. A few years later he approached the surrealist group in 1948, then the College of Pataphysique in 1954. He was friendly with the French playwright, actor and theater director Antonin Artaud, he admired and supported the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline and was strongly connected with the artistic circle around the surrealist André Masson. In 1944 he started an important relationship with the resistance-fighter and French writer, publisher, Jean Paulhan who was also strongly fighting against 'intellectual terrorism', as he called it.

Influenced by Hans Prinzhorn's book Artistry of the Mentally Ill, Dubuffet coined the term art brut (meaning "raw art," often referred to as 'outsider art') for art produced by non-professionals working outside aesthetic norms, such as art by psychiatric patients, prisoners, and children. He amassed his own collection of such art, including artists such as Aloïse Corbaz and Adolf Wölfli. The collection is now housed at the Collection de l'art brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dubuffet sought to create an art as free from intellectual concerns as Art Brut, and his work often appears primitive and childlike. Nonetheless, Dubuffet appeared to be quite erudite when it came to writing about his own work. According to prominent art critic Hilton Kramer, "There is only one thing wrong with the essays Dubuffet has written on his own work: their dazzling intellectual finesse makes nonsense of his claim to a free and untutored primitivism. They show us a mandarin literary personality, full of chic phrases and up-to-date ideas, that is quite the opposite of the naive visionary."[3]

Many of Dubuffet's works are painted in oil paint using an impasto thickened by materials such as sand, tar and straw, giving the work an unusually textured surface. From 1962 he produced a series of works in which he limited himself to the colours red, white, black, and blue. Towards the end of the 1960s he turned increasingly to sculpture, producing works in polystyrene which he then painted with vinyl paint.

In late 1960–1961, Dubuffet began experimenting with music and sound and made several recordings with the Danish painter Asger Jorn, a founding member of the avant-garde movement COBRA. The same period he started making sculpture, but in a very not-sculptural way. As his medium he preferred to use the ordinary materials as papier-mâché and for all the light medium polystyrene, in which he could model very fast and switch easily from one work to another, as sketches on paper. At the end of the 1960s he started to create his large sculpture-habitations, such as 'Tour aux figures',[4] 'Jardin d'Hiver' and 'Villa Falbala'[5] in which people can wander, stay, and contemplate. In 1969 ensued an acquaintance between him and the French Outsider Art artist Jacques Soisson.

In 1978 Dubuffet collaborated with American composer and musician Jasun Martz to create the record album artwork for Martz's avant-garde symphony entitled The Pillory. The much written about drawing has been reproduced internationally in three different editions on tens-of-thousands of record albums and compact discs. A detail of the drawing is also featured on Martz's second symphony (2005), The Pillory/The Battle, performed by The Intercontinental Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Choir.

One of Dubuffet's later works was Monument With Standing Beast (1984). Dubuffet died in Paris in 1985. The Fondation Jean Dubuffet collects and exhibits his work.

Selected bibliography[edit]

Catalogue Raisonné[edit]

  • Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule I-XXXVIII, Pauvert: Paris, 1965–1991
  • Webel, Sophie, L’Œuvre gravé et les livres illustrés par Jean Dubuffet. Catalogue raisonné. Lebon: Paris 1991


  • Jean Dubuffet, Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Tome I, II, Paris 1967; Tome III, IV, Gallimard: Paris 1995
  • Jean Dubuffet, Asphyxiating Culture and other Writings. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1986
    ISBN 0-941423-09-3

Principal studies[edit]

  • Michel Ragon, Dubuffet, New York: Grove Press, 1959 (Translated from French by Haakon Chevalier.)
    OCLC 1310555
  • Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1962
  • Max Loreau, Jean Dubuffet, délits déportements lieux de haut jeu, Paris: Weber, 1971
  • Andreas Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, Basel: Beyeler, 1976 (Translated from German by Joachim Neugröschel.)
    OCLC 3669520
  • Andreas Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1981 (Translated from German by Erich Wolf.)
    ISBN 0-81090-815-8
  • Michel Thévoz, Jean Dubuffet, Geneva: Albert Skira, 1986
  • Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality. New York: Pace Gallery 1987
    ISBN 0-89659-782-2
  • Mechthild Haas, Jean Dubuffet, Berlin: Reimer, 1997 (German)
    ISBN 3-49601-176-9
  • Jean Dubuffet, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 2001
    ISBN 2-84426-093-4
  • Laurent Danchin, Jean Dubuffet, New York: Vilo International, 2001
    ISBN 2-87939-240-3
  • Jean Dubuffet: Trace of an Adventure, ed. by Agnes Husslein-Arco, Munich: Prestel, 2003
    ISBN 3-7913-2998-7
  • Michael Krajewski, Jean Dubuffet. Studien zu seinem Fruehwerk und zur Vorgeschichte des Art brut, Osnabrueck: Der andere Verlag, 2004
    ISBN 3-89959-168-2


  1. ^ Le Monde – Dubuffet et Chaissac (French)
  2. ^ Le Monde – Dubuffet et Chaissac (French)
  3. ^ Kramer, Hilton (May 1962). "Playing the Primitive". The Reporter. p. 43. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  4. ^ classified as Monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture: Notice of La Tour aux Figures (French)
  5. ^ classified as Monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture: Notice of Closerie et Villa Falbala (French)

External links[edit]

Quotations related to Jean Dubuffet at Wikiquote

Media related to Jean Dubuffet at Wikimedia Commons