Galerie Europe (Michel Couturier), Paris
B+MC Kunst Edition, Cologne
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1987)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, As-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe?, April - May 1960, n.p., no. 40, illustrated
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, Jean Dubuffet, October - December 1960, p. 46, no. 85 (text)
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, April - December 1973, p. 133, no. 98, illustrated
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective 1943-1974, April - May 1987
Neuss, Langen Foundation; Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung; and Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Museum Lothar Fischer, Jean Dubuffet: ein Leben im Laufschritt, February 2009 - January 2010, p. 109, no. 99, illustrated in colour
Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fasc. XV: as-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe, Paris 1985, p. 44, no. 54, illustrated in colour
Mildred Glimcher, Ed., Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 176, illustrated
Jan Kříž, Jean Dubuffet, Prague 1989, p. 73, no. 46, illustrated in colour
Marcel Paquet, Dubuffet, Paris 1993, p. 134, no. 180, illustrated in colour
Jean-Luc Chalumeau, Dubuffet: 1901-1985, Paris 1996 and 2001, n.p., no. 21, illustrated in colour
Valérie Da Costa and Fabrice Hergott, Jean Dubuffet: oeuvres, écrits, entretiens, Paris 2006, p. 79, illustrated in colour
Jean Dubuffet, excerpt from La fleur de barbe, 1960, quoted in: Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, p. 149.
Radiating out from the canvas as though a dazzling beacon in a dark and stormy sky, the extraordinary beard in Jean Dubuffet’s magnificent Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés is an utter tour de force of painting – a stroke of complete artistic genius. Translating as Beard of Blinding Light, the frenetic flurry of brushstrokes that cover its gleaming surface immediately captivate the viewer, drawing them into its meticulously worked surface. Impressive in scale and majestic in facture, the present work is mesmeric in its intricate execution and enchanting in the complexity of its composition. Tendrils of black paint dance and snake across the snowy ground in a beguiling labyrinthine fashion, recalling the hypnotic terrain of the artist’s landscapes. As Max Loreau notes in his definitive catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, Dubuffet’s series of Barbes are extremely rare within the artist’s practice; comprised of fifty-one assemblages made from ink on paper, twenty-one oil paintings on paper and only twenty-eight oil paintings on canvas. Dating to July 1959, the present work is notably one of the first oil paintings from the series, and stands out as among the most technically accomplished and chromatically bewitching. Amidst its luminous palette of cool blue and icy white, Dubuffet’s constellation of painterly marks that dart in every direction imbue the painting with a restless energy and enrobe it with a resounding visual power. Encompassing a vast range of influence – from Greek and Roman classicism, to early African sculpture – Dubuffet’s Barbes iconoclastically redefine our very perceptions of beauty, displacing traditional ideals for an arresting image that stuns in its vivacious urgency. Attesting to the importance and profound rarity of this standout body of work, many other examples from the series are today held in prestigious public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Stedelijk van Abbemuseuem, and the Fondation Dubuffet, Paris. Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés, however, is a singular achievement from this body of work: in contrast to the ochres and earthly tones that dominate many of the other Barbes, the vivid colour of the present work endows it with a cosmic incandescence that simply gleams through the opulently textured surface of the picture. Treasured in the same private collection for decades, Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés was included in some of the artist's most important international exhibitions, including retrospectives at the Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Grand Palais in Paris. Masterfully combining the artist’s career-defining preoccupation with portraiture and landscape, Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés ranks among the very best of Dubuffet’s iconic oeuvre.
The inception of these astonishing paintings is fabled in the tomes of art history. In May 1959 Dubuffet travelled to Vence, where he received an article from his childhood friend Georges Limbour, which enthusiastically reviewed Dubuffet’s exhibition Célébration du Sol and likened the artist to the ancient Stoics and the sages of the Orient. Surprised and amused, the painter wrote a letter in response that he ironically signed with a little drawing – an antique style bust with the words ‘Marcus Aurelius’ scrawled underneath. Soon after, Limbour sent a note to Dubuffet asking to publish this drawing in Lettres Nouvelles. On the letter on which he gave his permission, Dubuffet drew two new even more elaborate drawings of bearded figures. With this humble gesture, the Barbes series was born. In the year following their creation, the majority of the works from this triumphant series were exhibited at Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris in a critically acclaimed show entitled As-tu cueilli la fleur de barbe. This exhibition marked a decisive moment in the artist’s career; when he turned from his New York-based dealer Pierre Matisse to the European based Cordier. Cordier would subsequently play a critical role in the international promotion of Dubuffet’s work, ushering in a new era of success for the artist at a moment when his public profile was skyrocketing. Reflective of the excitement surrounding the artist at this pivotal moment in his career, Dubuffet was accorded a major retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris just a few months after his Barbes exhibition closed.
Born of Dubuffet’s Texturologies – an ambitious cycle of works begun in 1957 that celebrate the soil and employ a host of new all-over techniques to evoke the earth’s gritty surface – the Barbes’ densely-worked, distended grounds owe much to these earlier pioneering techniques. Here, however, Dubuffet’s painterly interpretation of the surface of the earth is transformed into a new context: facial hair. In this sense, the Barbes exemplify the artist’s chameleonic capacity for metamorphosis, constantly reinventing himself while remaining steadfastly true to his overarching aesthetic philosophy. In Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés the composition is dominated by an area of teeming brushstrokes that have been scratched and wrought into the surface, jostling as though alive and sparkling, to produce an extraordinary mass of hair. Compared with the pared down facial features that loosely pick out two eyes and a peering nose, the magnificently detailed beard is brought immediately to the fore of the viewer’s vision. By using the Texturology in this manner, that is to say using a technique that is meant to represent the soil for anthropomorphic ends, Dubuffet innovatively breaks down the boundaries between landscape and portraiture. In the present work, man becomes nature. As pronounced by Dubuffet in 1947: “I think portraits and landscapes should resemble each other because they are more or less the same thing. I want portraits in which description makes use of the same mechanisms as those used in a landscape – here wrinkles, there ravines or paths; here a nose, there a tree; here a mouth and there a house” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., Riehen, Fondation Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, 2016, p. 40).
Throughout history, beards have traditionally been seen as symbols of virility, manhood and strength, but Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés completely turns this proposition on its head. Here Dubuffet lets the beard almost dominate the man, taking on its own mystical identity. As critic Peter Selz adds, "some of the Beards... look like gravel runs and have that geological feeling inherent in so much of Dubuffet’s work. Some resemble great rock formations or age-old boulders predating man’s presence on this planet. Or they appear to be survivors of ancient barbaric – that is to say, bearded – civilisations. Their shapes recall the menhirs of Stonehenge and the Winged Bulls from Assyrian palaces. The beard is the ageless symbol of manhood, and most cultures worshipped bearded divinities such as the Greek earth gods, Titan and Cyclops as well as the Olympians who followed them, the vengeful Hebraic god as well as the first person of the Trinity. It is the memory of these archetypes that Dubuffet now evokes" (Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York 1962, p. 149).
In Barbe de Lumière des Aveuglés the beard has become the very essence of being, the whole world of geology and mythology – earth and man – is contained in this majestic swathe of hair.
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