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

Paysage aux petits météores

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Paysage aux petits météores
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 56' (upper left)
oil and canvas collage on canvas
53 1/8 x 45 ¼ in. (135 x 114.9 cm.)
Executed in 1956
Galerie Rive Gauche, Paris (until at least 1957).
André Naggar, Paris.
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Cecil "Titi" Blaffer von Fürstenberg, Houston (acquired from the above, 1963).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XII: Tableaux d’assemblages, Lausanne, 1969, p. 67, no. 70 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
Paris, Galerie Rive Droite, Tableaux d'assemblages, April-May 1957, no. 20 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Paysage aux petits météores belongs to an accomplished series of paintings that Dubuffet began in 1955, combining the elements of painting and collage to produce canvases which exemplify the artist’s unique approach to painting. These Tableaux d’Assemblage, as they are known, are executed by assembling pieces of painted canvas to build up an evocation of the French countryside that the artist loved so much. In the case of this painting, in addition to the topographical patchwork of colors, Dubuffet introduces a series of star-like motifs to evoke the celestial marvels of the shooting star—meteorites that light up the night sky. Across almost the entire surface, Dubuffet assembles irregular shapes in a range of muted tones and warm organic colors to produce a patchwork of color and form. Each element is unique and different from its neighbor; the pigment applied in a variety of techniques and the resulting drips, splatters, painterly gestures and burnished surfaces evoke the topographical patchwork of rural fields and pastures. Irregular, yet fitted together almost perfectly, they are only interrupted by the star motifs referenced in the work’s title (translated from the French as "Landscape with Little Meteors"). These sparkling bodies take many forms; some are rudimentary, their short rays seemingly curtailed by their neighbors, yet others are elegant and refined, their long spindly tails reaching out into the darkness. The various areas of canvas fuse together to create an overall effect like an Informel stained glass window; it seems to gleam with a dark and understated earthy luster, and the various areas all conspire to make the eye dance across the surface incessantly. Then, along the extreme upper edge, Dubuffet leaves a void—a section of canvas unaffected by the chaos below, and defined only by a thin veil of pale white pigment.
Although Dubuffet had been creating various forms of assemblage for some time, it was only in 1955 that he began to explore the potential of the technique on canvas. He would create various paintings, often schematized so that one would be completely covered with sky, another with earth, another with the color of the sun. He would then cut them up and piece them together to form a new, highly variegated picture. The flexibility of this technique meant that he could even replace and substitute the various elements as he desired—the sky did not have to represent the sky, nor the sun the sun. In Paysage aux Petits Météores, the rich tapestry of shapes and colors that has been weaved together shows a fantastic mélange of elements that have been fused together, regardless of their original significations, to create an emotive and vibrant landscape.
The surface of this work is an exemplary example of Dubuffet’s fundamental beliefs about materials, process and the purpose of art. As such, it represents a distillation of the artist’s aim to create art that somehow embodies nature, rather than just represent it. Through the unrestrained and adventurous interaction with his various materials, he has not only replicated the texture of the countryside, but has also produced a phantasmagorical world of strange yet familiar images. Dubuffet emerged to critical acclaim into the Paris art world in 1942 and during the height of the World War II, his unique artistic style appealed to a population starved of artistic stimulation by the ravages of the Nazi occupation. His work was promoted by several influential French intellectuals, and the powerful American critic Clement Greenberg described him as “the most original painter to have come out of the School of Paris since Miró” (quoted in P. Schjeldahl "1942 and After: Jean Dubuffet in His Century," in Jean Dubuffet 1943-1963, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 15). Dubuffet’s unique form of art was his direct response to what he saw as the modern obsession with beauty and his assertion that it could be found in every aspect of nature, regardless of the supposed refinement of the aesthetics.
While many of the artist’s motifs appear regularly throughout his career, these meteor shapes appear in only a handful of his paintings from this period. The cosmic phenomena that they evoke have enchanted artists for millennia and appear in some of mankind’s earliest creative acts. Often symbolically used to portray foreboding or an omen, artists have included them to infer a period of uncertainly or change. Dubuffet’s precise reasons for including them here have gone unrecorded, it may just be—like his fellow artist Joan Miró in his 1951 painting Dragonfly with Red Wings in Pursuit of a Snake Gliding in a Spiral Towards a Comet (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid)—that he was struck by the mystical and symbolic nature of this natural phenomenon.
In this respect, Dubuffet joins a select body of artist’s who have sought to represent the ultimate power of nature in abstract terms. From the emotion of J.M.W. Turner’s powerful seascapes to James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s atmospheric Nocturnes, artists have long sought to convey the visceral power of the landscape rather than an accurately portray its topographical features. By breaking down the physical elements of the landscape into its constituent parts they sought to emphasize its magisterial nature. Indeed, the Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell once said of her thickly impastoed abstracts of the vicinity of her home near Paris “…I don’t want to improve it…I certainly never mirror it. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with” (quoted in M. Tucker, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1974, p. 8).
In his paintings, Dubuffet always the championed the advent of chance and accident, not least because it was self-generating, and therefore meant that some force other than the artist had been at play in the creative process. However, chance and accident had ever proved fickle partners. In the assemblages, Dubuffet now had the chance to edit and concentrate "accidents" on his source canvases. He could take as many as he liked and place them together, acting as a guiding hand, a conductor. With this interplay of many chance results, Dubuffet has managed to weave together a pulsing and vibrant collaboration between the directing forces of the artist and of chance. This makes Paysage aux petite météores appear as a living work. It is the organic product of the world, not mere artifice, or as Dubuffet himself wrote, a “kind of continuous universal soup with the savor of life itself” (Memoir on the Development of My Work from 1952, pp. 73-138, p. 121). In this way, Dubuffet has created an eclectic landscape that does more than merely represent it is self-generating, self-forming and as such is a landscape segment of the force of nature.

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