Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
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Property from The Museum of Modern Art Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Bon Marché II

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Bon Marché II
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 5 mai 61' (lower left)
gouache, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper
19 ¾ x 26 ¼ in. (50.2 x 66.7 cm.)
Executed in 1961.
Gift of the artist to the present owner, 1968
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XIX: Paris Circus, Paris, 1965, pp. 32 and 224, no. 38 (illustrated).
A. Franzke, Dubuffet Zeichnungen, Munich, 1980, p. 239 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Jean Dubuffet: Tekeningen, Gouaches, November 1964-January 1965, no. 137.
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester; Leeds, City Art Gallery, Jean Dubuffet Drawings, March-July 1966, no. 56 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Montréal, Musée des Beaux Arts; City Art Museum of St. Louis, Jean Dubuffet at The Museum of Modern Art, October 1968 and September 1969-April 1970.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Drawings: Recent Acquisitions, February-March 1969.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller; Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum; Oslo, Sonja Henie-Niels Onstad Foundation; Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Dubuffet: Persons and Places, November 1972-July 1974, no. 39 (New York); p. 114, no. 292 (Paris, illustrated); no. 37 (Düsseldorf, illustrated).
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes; Corpus Christi, Museum of South Texas; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas; Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, A Treasury of Modern Drawing: The Joan and Lester Avnet Collection, August 1978-July 1979, no. 11 (Mexico City); no. 75 (Bogotá).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Dubuffet: Works on Paper, September 1986-January 1987.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Watercolors: Selections from the Permanent Collection, March-July 1989.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Jean Dubuffet, 1901-1985, December 1990-March 1991, pp. 152 and 253, no. 193 (illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kabinet Overholland: Jean Dubuffet, June-August 2001.

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

One of the most colorful and vibrant of Jean Dubuffet’s Paris Circus paintings, Bon Marché II captures the frenetic energy of the famous Parisian department store. Only four of the artist’s works depict the bustling interiors of either the Bon Marché or the Galeries Lafayette, with this significant work on paper demonstrating the artist’s unique approach to compositions. Executed just after the artist’s return to Paris following a prolonged period living in the French countryside, this painting marks a tumultuous new phase of the artist’s career which saw him embark on some of his most famous and sought after works, and which acted as a precursor of his iconic L’hourlope.

In Bon Marché II, Dubuffet captures the energy of the shop floor in a colorful tableau. He depicts the busy theater of customers sampling the goods on display; along the extreme lower edge, an elegant woman in a bright blue chemise sports a wide brimmed hat; in the upper right portion of the work, a sales clerk shows a fashionable customer what appears to be a large ring; and in the background, more shop staff go about their duties assisting the throngs of customers searching for a bargain. The interiors of large vitrines are packed with all manner of fashionable accessories, while on top, mannequins display the latest fashions—all sparkle like jewels under the stores bright lights. Dubuffet’s flattened perspective democratizes each element of the painting; customers, staff and merchandise all have an equal voice in the cacophony of the artist’s composition.

Dubuffet’s animated depiction of the department store coincides with his return to Paris following a period of several years when he lived in the more bucolic environment of the South of France. In 1955, the artist moved to the town of Vence, a quiet commune just north of the Côte d’Azur; when he returned to the capital six year later, he was amazed by its transformation from a war-scarred and melancholic city into a center of European culture and fashion. This ‘rediscovery’ of his beloved Paris had an immediate and profound effect on his work; where his paintings of the late 1950s—such as his Texturologies, Topographies and Matérologies—had been informed by the earthy tonalities of nature and the countryside, his new cityscapes had opened up both his color and composition, culminating in his now famous Paris Circus series of paintings.

“Jean Dubuffet has shed his ground-worshipper tunic,” Max Loreau, a leading Dubuffet scholar, exclaimed of this restored joie de vivre. “The period of austerity is over. His ‘matériologue’ side sleeps; make way for the playful and theatrical Janus, the dancer and shouter” (M. Loreau, in Catalogue des travaux, Fascicule XIX, Paris-Circus, Paris 1965, p. 7). While the somber tones of his previous output were replaced by a radiating palette of warm reds, yellows, vibrant blues, and the primitivistic energy of art brut was freshly channeled into rich and tactile surfaces of childlike representations laden with wonder and immediacy, Dubuffet’s picture-city was not the real Paris, but rather an imagined city. Infused with a high degree of shrewdness and a remarkable sense of wit, the bustling interior of the famous store is defiantly the artist’s own creation. Rough-hewn gestural markings, reminiscent of chalk pavement drawings, here give birth to surging visceral terrains and irresistibly appealing settings abundant with Dubuffet’s personnage actors striking well-rehearsed, theatrical poses. Quivering with sensory traces and radiating a palpable life-force, Paris and its stores are transformed into a circus viewed through a kaleidoscope, where the imagination triumphs over reality and painterly phantasmagoria rules.

Dubuffet’s inspiration for Bon Marché II is the famous French department store that covers an entire city block on Paris’s Left Bank. Originally founded in 1838 as Au Bon Marché, the store began as a novelty shop selling lace, ribbons, buttons, umbrellas and other assorted goods. In 1852, an entrepreneur named Aristide Boucicaut became a partner and transformed the business, expanding the range of goods on offer and introducing new, innovative policies such as allowing refunds and exchanges. As a result, the business expanded rapidly and moved into a new, purpose built store in 1869, designed with help from Gustave Eiffel. Soon, Bon Marché—and the innovations pioneered there—became a model for much of the retail trade, and attracted well-heeled Parisians to this new ‘temple of retail.’ As its reputation grew, the store became a model for department stores all over the world, and in today’s age of online shopping still attracts millions of locals and visitors alike to experience its particular brand of refined, high-end retail.

Painted in 1961, as the pervasive power of commercialism swept through Europe and North America, Bon Marché II evokes this energy and excitement through Dubuffet’s eyes. In America, Pop Art was emerging into the world, investigating the unique auras surrounding quotidian objects and fearlessly appropriating the daily images that flooded our consciousness. In France, amidst the throes of New Wave cinema and sexual revolution, Dubuffet created a new liberated language that sought to convey the unbounded joy of daily living—of walking in the city, shopping or of simply being, and observing. Working in the tradition of the nineteenth century Parisian flaneur Édouard Manet, Dubuffet explained, “My art does not seek to include festivities as a distraction from everyday life, but to reveal that everyday life is a much more interesting celebration than the pseudo-celebrations created to distract from it” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 2001). With his inimitable mix of physical forms, Dubuffet constructs a unique visual script. His gestural vocabulary disables our spatial awareness to the point of psychedelic rapture: figures advance and recede within our vision, creating a richly kinetic optical effect. Bon Marché II conjures a new artistic handwriting, equipped to translate sensory experience and, in doing so, to suggest new ways of comprehending our daily existence.

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