Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Le Truand

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Le Truand
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 54' (upper center); signed again, inscribed, titled and dated again 'Le Truand J. Dubuffet juillet 54' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
45 1/2 x 35 1/8 in. (115.6 x 89.2 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. David M. Solinger, New York
Baron Élie Robert de Rothschild, Paris
Robert Elkon Gallery, New York
Peter Marino International Ltd., New York
Acquired from the above by Mrs. Sydell Miller, 1999
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule X: Vaches-Petites statues de la vie précaire, Lausanne, 1969, p. 49, no. 58 (illustrated).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York, 1981, pp. 15 and 92 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis Institute of the Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and San Francisco Museum of Art, The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors, May 1955-March 1956, p. 21 (illustrated).
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, Dubuffet, October-December 1960, n.p., no. 59.
New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Dubuffet: a Selection, September-October 1975, n.p., no. 8 (illustrated).
New York, Elkon Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: The First Two Decades (1943-1963), October-December 1986, p. 6 (illustrated in color).
New York, Elkon Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Forties-Fifties-Sixties: Paintings and Drawings, April-June 1991.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

“…the most simple and common spectacles appeal to me the most….I am a tourist of a very special kind; what is picturesque disturbs me. It is where the picturesque is absent that I am in a state of constant amazement.” Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet’s portrait of a ramshackle figure celebrates the artist’s unique ability to see beauty in the ordinary and every day. The enigmatic figure, whom is given the title Le Truand (roughly translated from the French as “tramp” or “hoodlum”), demonstrates the artist’s affection for honesty and truth in art and the rejection of conventional notions of aesthetic beauty. “Art,” he once said, “addresses itself to the mind, not to the eyes. Too many people think that art addresses itself to the eyes. That is to make of it poor use” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in T. Messer, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 1973, p. 15).

Here, Dubuffet’s imposing figure commands the entire picture plane. Set against a backdrop of subtle earth tones, his silhouette twists and turns filling the canvas with a meandering arrangement of arms and legs. His strong side-profile—complete with prominent Gallic features—dominates the upper portion of the canvas, staring out into the middle distance as if in pronounced concentration. Topping off the composition is a dapper hat, perched on the top of his head at a jaunty angle. Initially, it appears that there is only one figure. But upon closer examination, two further profiles emerge out of the surface of the painting. Two circular passages of paint that sit just below the brow of the hat can be read as another pair of eyes staring out directly at the viewer, shifting the aspect of the face from being viewed in profile to being viewed straight on. In addition, a third aspect emerges on the right side of the face, with the brim of the hat morphing into another protruding nose.

The figure itself is formed out of numerous layers of paint which the artist applies by scraping on, and then off, the surface of the canvas. The result is a highly sophisticated marbling effect in which the subsequent painterly layers merge into each other resulting in a beautifully mottled appearance. It also allows for the surface to display a remarkable depth where previous layers of pigment bleed through to the surface. The result are pools of bejeweled color—ruby red, emerald green and sapphire blue—that bubble up to the surface introducing brilliant flashes of color into an otherwise controlled palette.

Painted in 1954, Le Truand was created during a period when the artist split his time between Paris and southern France, where his wife was recuperating from tuberculosis. “I often had occasion to drive along the road between Paris and Auvergne,” he said, “and to take long solitary walks in the countryside around the village where she was being cared for. In this village I had at my disposal a little place which I fitted up as a studio. Once more I became preoccupied with country subjects—fields, grassy pastures, cattle, carts and the work of the fields—all things I had treated with enthusiasm in 1943 and 1944” (J. Dubuffet, “Vaches, Herbe, Frondaisons”, in P. Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, pp. 96-103). During this burst of painterly activity, Dubuffet produced relatively few paintings of human portraits, instead preferring to focus on the animals and agricultural activity that he saw around him. Thus, this painting is a rare and new vehicle for the development of what he termed art brut: a career-long quest for primitive, unschooled visual languages, free from the trappings of Western cultural tradition. In his pastoral, countryside setting, far from the clamor of the city, works such as the present example allowed him to further his exploration of this radical new way of seeing.

The figure in Le Truand also sees the beginnings of the idiosyncratic figures that would come populate some of the artist’s most distinguished works, namely his Paris Circus paintings and his iconic L’Hourlope sculptures. Just prior to this point in his career, Dubuffet had been depicted his figures as large, rotund creatures that consisted mainly of bulbous bodies to which he attached small heads and short, stubby limbs. However with works such as this he returned to the more elastic figures that would fill his later canvases. These jaunty depictions would become some of the most celebrated of his career as he added further interjections of color of color and energy into paintings that now hang in prestigious institutions such as the Tate Modern; London, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

With his unique style, Dubuffet deliberately strips away gloss of traditional aesthetics to make a work that is direct, energetic, and reminiscent of some of the abstractions preferred by so many of his contemporaries. Yet at the time, this incredibly rich and complex work retains a visual charm that reflects the generosity of spirit that fills Dubuffet’s paintings and makes them so consistently engaging. His enigmatic paintings are among the most notable renditions of the human figure in the twentieth century artistic canon and using his uniquely flattened and naïve style, the artist builds on the noble artistic tradition of re-inventing the conventions of human portraiture begun by Picasso and Braque to produce works that are unlike any of his contemporaries.

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