In the past, Jean Dubuffet gave up twice. The first time was in 1918, at the end of the First World War, when he abandoned his teaching at the Académie Julian after only six months. The second time was in 1936 when, after three months, he preferred to go back to working as a wine dealer which allowed him to live in certain comfort, following in the footsteps of his father.
Seven years later, Jean Dubuffet was ready to embrace the revolution. Not only because “the world has just changed speed” and that some, like Paul Eluard, Jean Fautrier or Jean Paulhan, whom he met in 1943 and would be the first owner of Quatre leveuses de bras, “now feel a growing need to throw themselves into a life that dilates and cracks up everywhere.” (Ibid.) But also because the Dubuffet wine company was now a flourishing affair, counting almost a hundred employees and forty or so retail branches. Jean Dubuffet felt freed of the “burden of having to make a career out of being an artist”. Rid of “the obsession of having to produce art”, he can now paint for pleasure. It was in this state of mind that a spark was lit at the beginning of 1943. “Jean Dubuffet suddenly saw in his paintings more that he dared to expect” and that he “had been persistently searching for, for over twenty years”: the key to all his painting. With a work such as Quatre leveuses de bras, he had found it.
As Max Loreau remarked “prehistory is finished”. Dubuffet would never again put down his paintbrush, drawing upon his imagination and mobilizing his mind because, for him, “art addresses the mind and not the eyes” and if the group of people presented in Quatre leveuses de bras create an almost childlike universe, with its archaic forms and bright, arbitrary colours, there should be no mistake. All Dubuffet’s contribution to the great history of art is resumed here. It is not an unrefined representation of a street bazaar but a mental spectacle nourished by a real philosophical reflection. Here, the maestro questions the representation of the body and the feminine nude in 20th century painting, one of the most sacred genres of Western painting, breaking with the codes of figuration in a totally revolutionary fashion, and revealing a presence. He offers an astounding interpretation through the flattening of forms and the transformation of the body into open planes, outlined by vague and shifting contours. All depth has been abolished. The pictorial space coincides with the surface of the painting, announcing thus the Corps de dames series which so impressed William de Kooning and inspired his Women series.
The message is clear. With Quatre leveuses de bras , the result of over two decades of questioning and research, Dubuffet achieved what has given him so much fame today and why he is celebrated as a genius by art historians: his faculty to create a machine for fabricating the world.
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