Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Alentour la maison (Around the House)

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Alentour la maison (Around the House)
signed and dated ‘J. Dubuffet 57’ (upper right); signed, titled and dated ‘Alentour la maison J. Dubuffet juin 57’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
35 1/8 x 45 5/8in. (89 x 116cm.)
Painted on 3 June 1957
Galleria Apollinaire, Milan.
Collection Achille Cavellini, Brescia.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1970s.
F. Russoli and A. Martini (eds.), Capolavori nei Secoli, vol. XLL: Correnti contemporanee, Milan 1964 (illustrated in colour, p. 94).
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet. Fascicule XIII: Célébrations du sol I, lieux cursifs, texturologies, topographies, Lausanne 1970, p. 152, no. 47 (illustrated, p. 38).
Milan, Tommaso Calabro Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: between music and painting, 2019.
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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

With its raw painterly terrain spiked with jewelled flashes of red and green, Jean Dubuffet’s Alentour la maison (Around the House) is a mesmeric composition from the Lieux cursifs series that occupied his output between April and September 1957. Incised into the work’s marbled earthen surface with a knife, a narrative sequence unfolds, like ancient graffiti carved into a rockface. Two figures amble around a house at the centre of the painting, their orientation skewed to the point of abstraction. Painted on 3 June, the work stems from an important period in the artist’s career, during which long sojourns in the countryside at Vence were interspersed with regular trips back home to Paris. Though the rural corners of Southern France had been Dubuffet’s preferred location since 1955, imbuing his work with a new rustic vitality, he missed the busier pace of the city, and sought to channel its dynamic rhythms into the Lieux cursifs. With examples held in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, the series may be seen to prefigure the artist’s legendary Paris Circus cycle, begun four years later after returning to the city on a more permanent basis. Contemporaneous with Dubuffet’s first solo museum exhibition, held that year at the Schloß Morsbroich in Leverkusen, West Germany, Alentour la maison bears witness to a practice poised on the brink of a transformation: one that would secure the artist’s international reputation for decades to come.

United by the theme of coming and going, the Lieux cursifs have something of an autobiographical quality, capturing Dubuffet’s own itinerant existence during this period. They frequently depict scenes of homecoming, often with faces at the windows or keys being turned in locks. As the artist explains, ‘In this series of paintings the theme of the house constantly recurs. It often has the appearance of a ship, or a wagon tightly closed and impermeable … The entrance door is treated with special emphasis’ (J. Dubuffet, ‘Memoir on the Development of My Work from 1952’, reproduced in The Work of Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, p. 128). Whilst prevalent as a subject, however, the concept of ‘home’ could hardly be said to describe Dubuffet’s aesthetic compass during these years, which – inspired by the allure of city life – became increasingly exotic and cosmopolitan in its outlook. The present work invites comparison with the schismatic compositions of Cy Twombly, who had trawled the ancient streets of Rome during the 1960s. At the same time, its buoyant, colourful surface – redolent of chalk pavement drawings, or contemporary graffiti – seemed to herald the dawn of a new urban language: one that would later find expression in the work of artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. The method employed in these paintings, which involved applying multiple layers of paint with a putty knife before scoring and scraping the surface, certainly channelled the spirit of street art.

Dubuffet’s time in Vence had reignited his passion for art brut: a term that denoted art created by those outside the parameters of traditional society, including mental health patients, children and psychics. The artist felt that such unschooled images might allow us to recover the human spirit in its purest form: a raw, primeval energy buried by centuries of academic teaching. In the linear freedom and uninhibited naivety of Dubuffet’s figures, the influence of this body of work continues to assert itself. His rich textures and near-sculptural strata of paint also hark back to early 1949 series Paysages grotesques, as well as the Topographies and Texturologies inspired by the landscapes surrounding Vence. For Dubuffet, art brut and nature were deeply connected, both embodying an unadulterated truth that he felt had been eclipsed by society’s reverence for artistic tradition. As Dubuffet explains, ‘The personnages and other elements suggested in [the Lieux cursifs] are drawn with very hasty strokes, even precipitate and uncontrolled strokes, corresponding to the vague idea which has haunted me for a great many years that such an excessively rapid way of drawing, brutal even … eliminating as it does all affectations and all mannerisms, might bring into being a sort of innocent and primordial figuration’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in The Common Man: Works by Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1970, p. 40). This dream is palpable in the present work, whose surface quivers with the primal joy of mark-making.

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