Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
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Artist's Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the … Read more Property From the Jacques Berne Collection, Le Havre
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Pourlèche fiston

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Pourlèche fiston
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 63' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated '"Pourlèche Fiston" J. Dubuffet Juin 63' (on the reverse); inscribed 'Paris' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
45 x 57 5/8 in. (114.3 x 146.5 cm.)
Painted on 13 June 1963.
Jacques Berne Collection, Le Havre, gift of the artist, 1970
Thence by descent to the present owner
M. Loreau, Dubuffet et le voyage au centre de la perception, Paris, 1966 (illustrated on the cover).
M. Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XX: L'Hourloupe I, Paris, 1966, p. 75, no. 149 (illustrated).
G. Lefebvre, L'homme du commun parmi nous, Montreal, 1969, no. 22 (illustrated).
M. Loreau, Jean Dubuffet: délits, déportements, lieux de haut jeu, Paris, 1971, p. 440 (illustrated).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume, L'Hourloupe di Jean Dubuffet, June-October 1964, no. 12.
Paris, Galerie Jeanne Bucher, L'Hourloupe, December 1964-January 1965 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: paintings, April-May 1966, p. 60, no. 115 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Jean Dubuffet, June-August 1966, no. 107 (illustrated).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet, 1962-1966, October 1966-February 1967, no. 11 (illustrated).
Montreal, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, L'homme du commun, travaux de Jean Dubuffet, December 1969-January 1970, p. 50, no. 54 (illustrated).
Basel, Kunsthalle, Jean Dubuffet: L'Hourloupe, June-August 1970, no. 10 (illustrated).
Le Havre, Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux, Jean Dubuffet: peintures, sculptures, dessins, February-March 1977, no. 23 (illustrated).
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Dubuffet, March-April 1993, p. 143, no. 90 (illustrated in color).
Le Havre, Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux, On n'est pas sérieux quand on a 50 ans, October 2011-January 2012, p. 31, no. 5 (illustrated in color).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer also agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This item will be transferred to an offsite warehouse after the sale. Please refer to department for information about storage charges and collection details.

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Etienne Sallon
Etienne Sallon

Lot Essay

Held in the same family collection for half a century, Pourlèche fiston is an electrifying masterwork dating from a pivotal moment in Jean Dubuffet’s career. Painted in 1963, it represents the kaleidoscopic fusion of two worlds: the transformation of his celebrated Paris Circus series into his career-defining cycle Hourloupe. The former, distinguished by its swarming, cosmopolitan energy, had positioned Dubuffet on the international stage in the early 1960s, capturing the joyful ecstasy of Paris in its heyday. The latter, with its jigsaw-like, cross-hatched cells, would consume the artist for the next twelve years, evolving into a vast multi-media universe that turned visual perception on its head. In the present work, the two join hands: revellers cavort and dance amid raw patterns and textures, alive with vibrant flashes of color. Figuration morphs into abstraction and back again; foreground and background oscillate in wild, rhythmic motion. The work’s title—a typical instance of wordplay in Dubuffet’s oeuvre—offers a witty invitation to “tuck in”; the word “fiston”, referring affectionately to a younger male comrade, might be seen as a subconscious allusion to his friend the poet Jacques Berne, to whom he gifted the painting. The work has been widely exhibited, notably featuring in the seminal show LHourloupe di Jean Dubuffet at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, in 1964, and the artist’s major solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York between 1966 and 1967.

Both originally from the port city of Le Havre on the coast of Normandy, Dubuffet and Jacques Berne became friends in the years immediately following the war. Some 622 letters sent by Dubuffet between 1946 and 1985, the last of them written only a week before the painter’s death, testify to a productive meeting of minds as well as a loyal friendship between the two men. Dubuffet begins one of his first missives by declaring, “Now Le Havre will no longer be for me the no-man’s land it once was, rather I will have a friend there” (J. Dubuffet, Lettres à J. B., 1946-1985, Paris, 1991, p. 4). Even Jacques Berne described himself as a “ball boy” to Dubuffet’s “aerial acrobat” (Preface op. cit., p. VII), playing down his role with a modesty that runs throughout his own poetic oeuvre. As the author of texts and coordinator of publications devoted to Dubuffet, Berne would make an important contribution to the exegesis of the painter’s work: “You should speak, not me. You must do it better than me”, the artist urges him (J. Dubuffet, letter of December 2, 1976, op. cit., p. 294). Berne’s representations to the city of Le Havre on his friend’s behalf would also lead to the painter finally exhibiting in his hometown in 1976.

Dubuffet’s Hourloupe cycle stands among the most distinctive bodies of work in the post-war period. Having spent much of his early career engaged in the aesthetics of art brut—images created outside the bounds of Western tradition and teaching—he believed that art should encourage humankind to see the world through new eyes. In 1962, while on holiday in his newly-built house in Le Touquet with his wife, he created a series of absent-minded doodles as he talked on the telephone. When cross-hatched, cut out and positioned against black backgrounds, these curious cellular creations seemed to come alive, quivering like amoebae viewed under a microscope. For Dubuffet, they represented the final frontier: a way of tapping into the innermost impulses of his brain, free from form or conscious association. He named his new discovery “Hourloupe”: an onomatopoeic creation reminiscent of words such as “hurler” (“to howl”), “hululer” (“to hoot”), “loup” (“wolf”) and “entourlouper” (“to make a fool of”). Over the years, this puzzle-like language would seek to reimagine the physical world, endowing everyday people and objects with a primal, electric charge. Gradually, it would burst into three dimensions, taking the form of monumental sculpture and even live performance in his 1973 creation Coucou Bazaar.

The present work sits at a fascinating juncture within this trajectory. On one hand, it captures the vibrant early magic of Hourloupe: the cross-hatched segments loom large within the composition, imbuing the work with a sense of surreal psychological distraction. At the same time, the work retains many of the qualities of Paris Circus, which Dubuffet had begun in 1961 after returning to the city from a six-year sojourn in the countryside. Struck by the newfound vitality of the metropolis, alive with fashion, cinema, art and commerce, he began to daub his impressions on canvas, working with bold colors and rich, intuitive brushwork. Abandoning all sense of perspective, his works captured the buzz of city life, jumbling people, houses and streets together with maze-like fluidity. Such rhythms are palpable in the present work: indeed, scholars have argued that the two series fundamentally shared common roots. “Those motley tribes of city-dwellers … swarm onto the canvas in a way that was soon to become the great mental flux of Hourloupe,” writes Daniel Abadie. “… From then on, and more than ever before, painting was to become, for Dubuffet, a game the brain plays, ‘the mind’s greatest game’” (D. Abadie, “The mind’s greatest game”, in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Galerie Boulakia, Paris, 2007, p. 8).

Pourlèche fiston bears witness to the full breadth of Dubuffet’s influences as he took his place on a new global platform. On one hand, the legacy of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger is evident in his deconstruction of the picture plane: indeed, as the former Guggenheim director Thomas M. Messer wrote in 1986, “Hourloupe [is] arguably the most radical structural reinterpretation since Cubism” (T. M. Messer, Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, exh. cat., Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1986, p. 24). At the same time, Dubuffet was fully aware of contemporary developments across the Atlantic: from the rich colors and textures of Abstract Expressionism, to the quotidian vitality of Pop Art. More broadly, the work extends the gritty, urban aesthetic cultivated in Paris Circus, evoking the appearance of graffiti or chalk pavement drawing. Dubuffet’s conception of Hourloupe as a form of handwriting invites comparison with the work of Cy Twombly—who drew inspiration from the scarred, ancient walls of Rome during this period—and would go on to provide an important precedent for the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat almost two decades later. Writing in 1963, the critic Giancarlo Politi was certain of Dubuffet’s present and future impact: “One of the most dramatic and lyrical interpreters of our time,” he wrote, “certainly the greatest prophet” (G. Politi, La Fiera letteraria, 31 March 1963).

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