Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
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The Jacqueline and Pierre Simon Collection
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

L'Apathique (Site urbain avec 10 personnages)

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
L'Apathique (Site urbain avec 10 personnages)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'J.D. 62' (lower right)
gouache on paper
26 1/8 x 19 5/8 in. (66.4 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
The artist
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1969
Galerie Melki, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1972
P. Descargues, "Dubuffet... à Paris," La Tribune de Lausanne, 17 June 1962, p. 5 (illustrated).
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Paris Circus, Fascicule XIX, Paris, 1965, p. 171, no. 375 (illustrated).
A. Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, Basel, 1976, pp. 87 and 169, no. 66 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, Dubuffet: Paris Circus, June-July 1962, no. 42.
Nancy, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Jean Dubuffet, January-February 1963, no. 53.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Jean Dubuffet: Tekeningen, Gouaches, November 1964-January 1965, no. 170.
Kunstmuseum Basel, Jean Dubuffet: Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, Gouachen, Collagen, June-August 1970, no. 111 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A supreme example of Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated Paris Circus series, L'Apathique (Site urbain avec 10 personnages) captures the energy and excitement of Paris in the 1960s. In his unique naïve style, Dubuffet expertly captures the sense of liberation enjoyed in the French capital, as he lays out the grand boulevards filled with bustling shops and people. Along with the artist’s more somber Corps de Dames paintings from the 1950s, these colorful and vibrant paintings have become some of the most remarkable works of postwar European art, with over half the works of this type now held in major museum and institutional collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Fondation Beyeler, Basel; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris.
With its bold, rich palette and palpable sense of energy, LApathique becomes a microcosm of Paris. Meandering streets are filled with fashionable figures, shops are open welcoming customers, and people hang from their windows waving to passersby; Dubuffet packs every part of his composition with the cartoon-like figures that became his main form of artistic expression during this prolific part of his career. The Parisian energy is captured, not only by his use of high-keyed primary colors, but also by the dynamism of his peripatetic line as it travels around the composition in its endless search for engagement. “…Openly discerning for the beholder, Dubuffet intensifies his painting, unacademically and very directly, into a field of action for color and line forces, so that the grotesque and confusingly diverse city of luxuriating facades, pedestrians, and fragments of ad slogans challenges the viewer to active participation…” (A. Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, Basel, 1976, p. 84 and 89).
Returning to Paris after a six year self-imposed hiatus in the countryside of Vence in southern France, Dubuffet’s Paris Circus paintings signal the artist’s vivacious rediscovery of city life. Seeking to escape the war scarred melancholy and disquieting sobriety of postwar Paris, the 1950s marked a humbling immersion into the dark, rural aesthetic of earthbound materiality. Studying the textures of the soil and ground in geologically minute detail, the artist’s fascination with organic matter in his Texturologies, Topographies and Matérologies of the late 1950s introduced a new element of design that sought to celebrate the physical existence of basic matter through densely constructed, homogenous surfaces. It was, however, in this absence from city life that Paris was born anew, transformed from a war-torn capital into a thriving social and cultural epicenter.
Averting his attention from the nuanced physicalities of the earth, Dubuffet was struck with the reawakened splendor of his new urban surroundings. “Over and done with the mystical jubilations of the physical world: I have become nauseated by it and no longer wish toward except against it,” Dubuffet declared. “It is the unreal now that enchants me; I have an appetite for nontruth, the false life, the anti-world; my efforts are launched on the path of irrealism. …I continue moreover to think, as I always have, that truly violent and highly efficacious effects are arrived at by skillfully dosing marriages of irrealism with realism, the presence of one seeming to me necessary in order to manifest the other. In the paintings I now plan to do there will only be aggressively unreasonable forms, colors gaudy without reason, a theater of irrealaties, an outrageous attempt against everything existing, the way wide open for the most outlandish inventions” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Frankze, Dubuffet, New York, 1981, p. 147).
Dubuffet’s breakthrough came in February 1961 when the force of this powerful revelation gave birth to the artists most illustrious and sought-after series, Paris Circus. Captivated by the energy coursing through the Parisian streets, Dubuffet was swept up in the whirl of the city bustling with cars and people. “Jean Dubuffet has shed his ground-worshipper tunic,” Max Loreau, 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 reds, yellows, purples and 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 shop lined street in L'Apathique is flanked by shops and storefronts of 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 personage actors striking well-rehearsed, theatrical poses. Quivering with sensory traces and radiating a palpable life-force, Paris is transformed into a circus viewed through a kaleidoscope, where the imagination triumphs over reality, and a painterly phantasmagoria rules. L'Apathique conjures a new artistic language, equipped to translate sensory experience and, in doing so, to suggest new ways of comprehending our daily existence.

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