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Bernard Buffet

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Bernard Buffet
Bernard Buffet in his studio in Tourtour, France (1989) Credits: Danielle Buffet
Born(1928-07-10)10 July 1928
Paris, France
Died4 October 1999(1999-10-04) (aged 71)
Tourtour, France
EducationÉcole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Marie-Thérèse Auffray
Known forPainting, drawing, printmaking
AwardsMember of the Salon d'Automne, 1947

Member of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, 1947
Prix de la Critique, 1948
Prix Puvis de Chavannes, 1950
Officer of the Légion d'Honneur,1973

Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, 1974

Bernard Buffet (French: [byfɛ]; 10 July 1928 – 4 October 1999) was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor. An extremely prolific artist, he produced a varied and extensive body of work. His style was exclusively figurative and is often classified as Expressionist or "miserabilist".[1]

Buffet enjoyed worldwide popularity in the 1950s and was often compared to Pablo Picasso for his fame and talent. By the end of the 1950s, however, the public and art community turned strongly against him due to changing artistic tastes, Buffet's lavish lifestyle, and his extremely prolific output. The 21st century saw a renewed interest in his oeuvre.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bernard Buffet was born in 1928 in Paris, where he spent his childhood.[1] He was from a middle-class family with roots in Northern and Western France. His mother often took him to the Louvre Museum, where he became familiar with the works of Realist painters, such as Gustave Courbet. This is likely to have influenced his style.[citation needed] In 1955, he painted a work that paid tribute to Courbet's Le Sommeil.[citation needed]

Bernard Buffet was a student at the Lycée Carnot during the Nazi occupation of Paris. He travelled to drawings courses in the evenings despite the curfew imposed by the Nazi authorities. He then studied art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of the Fine Arts)[2] and worked in the studio of the painter Eugène Narbonne. Among his classmates were Maurice Boitel and Louis Vuillermoz. He met the French painter Marie-Thérèse Auffray and was influenced by her work.[citation needed]

Buffet's mother, Blanche, died from breast cancer in 1945. Seventeen-year-old Buffet was devastated. Losing his mother at an early age remained a source of melancholy throughout his life.[citation needed]

Rise to fame[edit]

Charles de Gaulle by Buffet

As a painter, Buffet produced religious pieces, landscapes, portraits and still-lifes. Influenced by Francis Gruber,[3][4] he often painted "Miserabilist" scenes of despair, including scenes of poverty and Holocaust victims, but he also portrayed subjects as varied as ashtrays, clowns, and table lamps.[1][5] His work was characterized by thick black lines, elongated forms, and a lack of depth of field.[1][5]

In 1946, he had his first painting shown, a self-portrait, at the Salon des Moins de Trente Ans at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. In 1948, he won his first major prize, the Prix de Critique, sharing it with fellow Expressionist Bernard Lorjou.[6]

An extremely prolific painter, he had at least one major exhibition every year. By the age 26, it was said that he had completed more paintings than Pierre-Auguste Renoir's lifetime output.[5] In 1948, gallerist Maurice Garnier began showing Buffet's work, and by 1977, his gallery was devoted solely to Buffet.[1]

By the age of 21, Buffet was already considered one of the greatest stars of the art world, frequently compared to Pablo Picasso.[2] A 1958 article in The New York Times called him one of the "Fabulous Five" cultural figures of post-war France (the other four were Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Sagan, Roger Vadim, and Yves Saint Laurent).[5]

Buffet illustrated "Les Chants de Maldoror" written by Comte de Lautréamont in 1952. In 1955, he was awarded the first prize by the magazine Connaissance des Arts, which named the ten best post-war artists. In 1958, at the age of 30, the first retrospective of his work was held at the Galerie Charpentier.

He was commissioned to make the portrait of Charles de Gaulle for the 1958 Time Man of the Year magazine cover.

Later career[edit]

However, by the end of the 1950s, both the public and the art world had turned against Buffet. His lavish lifestyle--including a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur and a private castle in Provence[5]--made him seem out of touch with the still-struggling economy of post-war France, which he had memorably portrayed in his early paintings.[2][7] A 1956 magazine photograph of Buffet being helped into his car by the chauffeur was a particular turning point in the public's views of him.[1] Another magazine published photographs of Buffet's lifestyle--large castle, expensive furniture, well-fed dogs--alongside the miserable figures of his paintings to implicitly accuse him of hypocrisy.[6]

Picasso further worsened Buffet's reputation by publicly denigrating his work, and Buffet also attracted the enmity of novelist André Malraux, the powerful French Minister of Culture.[8] Finally, Buffet's critical reputation was also affected by his tremendous and sometimes indiscriminate output. In the 1990s, he claimed he had completed a painting a day for more than four decades. In the words of one art historian, many of these works were "unequivocally bad".[2]

Despite his reduced reputation, Bernard Buffet was named "Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur" in 1973. On 23 November 1973, the Bernard Buffet Museum was founded by Kiichiro Okano, a private collector in Surugadaira, Japan.[1]

At the request of the French postal administration in 1978, he designed a stamp depicting the Institut et le Pont des Arts – on this occasion the Post Museum arranged a retrospective of his works.[9]

Buffet created more than 8,000 paintings and many prints as well.

Personal life and death[edit]

Buffet was bisexual, and his paintings have been noted for their homoerotic themes.[2] Industrialist Pierre Bergé was Buffet's live-in lover for eight years from 1950 to 1958, recalling later that the two were "never apart for a single day."[10] In 1958, Bergé left Buffet for Yves Saint Laurent.[8]

On 12 December 1958, Buffet married the writer and actress Annabel Schwob. They adopted three children.[11] Daughter Virginie was born in 1962; daughter Danielle, in 1963; and son Nicolas, in 1973.

Buffet died by suicide at his home in Tourtour, southern France, on 4 October 1999.[8] He was suffering from Parkinson's disease and was no longer able to work.[1] Police said that Buffet died after putting his head in a plastic bag attached around his neck with tape.[12]


In the 21st century, there has been a renewed spike in interest in the work of Buffet.[1] His work is particularly popular in Asia and former Soviet Union nations.[7] In 2016, Paris's Musée d’Art Moderne held a large retrospective of his work, the first held in France since his death, though its curator acknowledged that it was a risky exhibition given Buffet's lingering reputation as the "ultimate in bad taste".[1] Also in 2016, British author Nicholas Foulkes published Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist, in which he offers a biographical account of Buffet's life and work.[7]

Corresponding with this renewed interest, some of Buffet's work also saw rising appraisals in the early 21st century. In 2015, his painting Le Cri du Clown (1970) sold for 3.15 million Hong Kong dollars ($410,000 USD) in an auction in Hong Kong. That same year, Christie's auction house in London sold Buffet's Les Clowns Musiciens, le Saxophoniste (1991) for £1,022,500, which set the record for the highest-selling work by the artist.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lankarani, Nazanin (20 October 2016). "Buffet: A Life of Success, Rejection and Now a Celebration". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e Atlee, James (14 January 2016). "Bernard Buffet: the Invention of the Mega-artist by Nicholas Foulkes, book review: Paris prodigy turned pariah". The Independent. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  3. ^ "Francis Gruber". Art UK. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  4. ^ "Francis Gruber". Berardo Collection Museum. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e Smith, Roberta (5 October 1999). "Bernard Buffet, French Painter, Dies at 71". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  6. ^ a b Cornell, Kenneth. "The Buffet Enigma." Yale French Studies, no. 19/20, 1957, pp. 94–97. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2930427. Accessed 4 Aug. 2023.
  7. ^ a b c Faloyin, Dipo (3 August 2023). "Q&A: Author Nick Foulkes on the Reinvention of painter Bernard Buffet". Newsweek. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Lichfield, John (16 March 2009). "Bernard Buffet: Return of the 'poser'". The Independent. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  9. ^ Bernard Buffet Maler Painter Peintre (brochure), Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, April 2008.
  10. ^ "The Bernard Buffet years". The Yves St Laurent Museum. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  11. ^ Elisabeth Sancey (interview with Nicholas Buffett). (17 October 2009). "Survivre à des parents terribles (Deuxième partie)". parismatch.com.
  12. ^ Friend, David (4 August 2023). "Forgotten French Artist Bernard Buffet Finally Gets a Re-appraisal". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 4 August 2023.

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