Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
The Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Le Donneur D’Alarme

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Le Donneur D’Alarme
signed and dated ‘J. Dubuffet 63’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
76 7/8 x 51 in. (195.2 x 130 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1964
G. Limbour, "Jean Dubuffet: L'Hourloupe ou de L'envoûtement," XXe siècle, vol. 26, no. 24, December 1964, p. 37 (illustrated).
H. Damisch, "L'oeuvre, L'art, L'oeuvre de l'art, Méthode Seconde," Mercure de France, January 1965, p. 108.
M. Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XX: L’Hourloupe I, Paris, 1966, p. 105, no. 188 (illustrated).
K. Minturn, "Damisch avec Dubuffet," October, no. 154, Fall 2015, p. 54 (illustrated).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume, L'Hourloupe di Jean Dubuffet, June-October 1964, n.p., no. 38 (illustrated).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

A towering arrangement of brightly-colored, interlocking cells are nestled together in Jean Dubuffet’s Le Donneur D’Alarme, an exceptional, large-scale painting. The work is an iconic illustration of the unique new visual language that personifies the artist’s most enduring body of work: L’Hourloupe. Created in November of 1963, Le Donneur D’Alarme is an early figural example from this important series. Set against a stark black background, Dubuffet’s creation vibrates and pulses with the marrow of life itself. Irregularly shaped forms shaded in variations of red, blue, white and black coalesce to form the image of a life-sized human figure, seen in profile view and sporting a jaunty hat and red glasses. At once highly specific and yet also universal, Le Donneur D’Alarme exemplifies the much beloved L’Hourloupe series, which would occupy the artist for the next twelve years. In 1964, the French poet Georges Limbour—a great friend and admirer of Dubuffet’s—included Le Donneur D’Alarme in his seminal article on L’Hourloupe in the French art magazine XXe Siècle, where it featured alongside other masterworks of that era, including Le Cosmopolite (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), La Gigue Irlandaise (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), and Le Gai Savoir (Private collection).

Looming before the viewer at over six feet tall, Le Donneur D’Alarme commands the gaze by nature of its powerful presence. In what at first might appear to be an utterly abstract arrangement of interlocking forms, the illustration transforms before our eyes to reveal the human figure in profile. Dubuffet’s masterful arrangement of alternating red and blue segments lends three-dimensional roundness and depth while simultaneously conveying a feeling of wriggling, pulsating energy as the eye traces the meandering contours of the figure’s body. Rather than flesh and blood, Dubuffet’s figure is composed of the artistic building blocks that have been employed in artmaking since the Renaissance. Cross-hatching denotes shading, with darker, more dense areas receding and lighter areas coming to the foreground. Dubuffet’s figure is flattened out, united with the flat plane of the canvas surface, but—much like the laws of Cubist painting—multiple vantage points jostle for prominence as a sense of three-dimensional shape gradually emerges.

Towards the end of 1962, the idiosyncratic L’Hourloupe series began to emerge in the artist’s work, coming as it did on the heels of Paris Circus and the newfound joie de vivre he encountered upon arriving in Paris after many years in the rural countryside, where he had spent many years engaged in the Matériologies series. What Dubuffet discovered was a thriving city that had remade itself in the postwar years and was in the midst of a thirty-year economic boom known to the French as “Les Trente Glorieuses.” He was immediately inspired to capture the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city life, and he embarked upon the much-beloved Paris Circus paintings in the early 1960s. There, he recorded the comings and goings of ordinary people experiencing daily life. Rendered in lively white outlines, Dubuffet’s figures displayed the earliest germination of what later became L’Hourloupe. The true genesis of the series, however, can be traced to the summer of 1962. That July, Dubuffet noticed that the automatic doodling he produced while on the phone had the makings of an entirely new series. Using red and blue ballpoint pens, he allowed his mind to float free, becoming detached from the drawing process, while he drew using instinct alone. The result—interconnected forms that resembled microscopic cells or puzzle pieces and often displaying a striped pattern—provided the potential for a new visual language, and this began his longest cycle of work, which occupied him until the mid-1970s.

Dubuffet titled this new series L’Hourloupe—a rather musical term that he created by fusing together several different words: “hurler” (“to shout”), “hululer” (“to howl”) and “loup” (“wolf”). L’Hourloupe was also inspired by Le Horla, a short horror story written by Guy de Maupassant in 1887. While his earlier Paris Circus displayed a rich palette of vibrant, jewel-like colors and figures bustling about their urban environment, L’Hourloupe made use of a deliberately reduced set of colors, concentrating on four essentials: red and blue, together with black and white. It situated the viewer in an entirely new visual world, one which became disconnected with the quotidian reality of daily life and entered into another, higher plane. As Dubuffet himself has explained, “this series [l’Hourloupe] was characterized by a much more seriously arbitrary and irrational nature than all the works made previously. A leap into fantasy, into a ghostly parallel universe” (J. Dubuffet, “Biographie au pas de course,” in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, IV, Paris, 1995, p. 510).

Just as Dubuffet had responded to the cultural and economic shifts that he witnessed in Paris in the early 1960s, so too, did Pop artists in America create paintings that sought to express certain underlying truths they felt could not be adequately expressed by traditional means. Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots and Warhol’s silkscreens evoked a precocious youthful spirit that also conveyed their own biting social critique that could be perceived beneath their slick, Pop Art surfaces. In titling his work Le Donneur D’Alarme, which translates to “Donor of Alarm” or “Alarm-Giver,” Dubuffet hints at the darker aspects of humanity, furthering its link to the artist’s Art Brut origins. Its clever title—Donneur D’Alarme—might also be a play on words, as its phonetic pronunciation could be interpreted as “Donneur des Larmes,” or “Giver of Tears.”

Whatever its meaning, it is clear that in L’Hourloupe, Dubuffet invented a brilliant new visual language that he used to depict ordinary human beings to express a larger reality where life is universal and interconnected. Donning a hat and a pair of red spectacles, Dubuffet’s figure shares a kinship with all of the lively, hurrying figures of his Paris Circus series, those colorful scenes of Parisian city life that so appealed to him when he returned to Paris after a lengthy sojourn in the French countryside. They express the universal human condition, an aspect which is perhaps best said by the artist himself: “The works connected with the Hourloupe cycle are linked closely to one another in my mind: each of them is an element intended for insertion into a whole. That whole aims to be the depiction of a world unlike ours, a world parallel to ours, if you like; and this world bears the name L’Hourloupe” (J. Dubuffet, quoted
in Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2016, p. 166).

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