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Details & Cataloguing

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Jean Dubuffet
1901 - 1985
FRENCH
PALMIERS AUX BEDOUINS (PALM TREES WITH BEDOUINS)
signed J.Dubuffet '48
mixed media and glue on paper 
56 by 44cm.; 22 1/8 by 17 1/2 in.
Executed in January-April 1948.
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Provenance

World House Galleries, New York
Sale: Paris, Palais Galliéra, Tableaux Modernes, 21 June 1966, lot 218
Private Collection, Paris
Sale: Sotheby's, Paris, Oeuvres sur Papiers, 23 March 2017, lot 25
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2017

Exhibited

New York, World House Galleries, Jean Dubuffet, 25 October - 26 November 1960, no. 10, n.p.

Literature

Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule IV: Roses d'Allah, clowns du désert, Paris, 2008, no. 64, p. 48, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Executed between January and April 1948 during Dubuffet’s travels to Ghardaia and El Golea on the edge of the Sahara, Palmiers aux Bedouins is a rare piece from an exceptional body of early works that the artist made during his trips to the desert. Although this initial journey presented an escape from the frozen European winter, Dubuffet would return to the Sahara and possibly El Golea and Ghardaia twice over the subsequent years, demonstrating the attachment he had to the region– and attesting the great influence it had on his work.

During the difficult post-war years in Europe, meeting the Bedouin people of the Algerian desert, with whom the artist spent considerable amounts of time (and even attempted to learn the language), must have been a welcome escape from life in the city. As recounted by Dubuffet himself: “we came back from there absolutely cleansed of all the intoxications, truly refreshed and renewed, as well as enriched in the ways of savoir-vivre’ (Jean Dubuffet quoted in: Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Vol. 2, Paris 1995, pp. 247-248). There is a long tradition among French artists of visiting North Africa. It was quite popular in the 19th Century amongst Orientalist painters such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Eugène Delacroix to visit North Africa in search of new sources of inspiration. In the 20th century, Henri Matisse, influenced by the Islamic Arts he had discovered during his travels to Algeria and Tunisia, liberated his work from the constraints of perspectival depth which had dominated the European arts until then. 

The artist’s interest in the Bedouins was more than mere escapism after the war: in many ways, his fascination with non-Western cultures was linked to art brut; an interest in visual cultures that were independent of official dogmas and the art school establishment. Reacting against the Enlightenment ideals of rationality and progress that had dominated western societies, Dubuffet and his contemporaries turned to alternative traditions, such as the drawings of children or the mentally ill. The isolated lifestyle of the Bedouins and their rituals would have appealed to the artist’s visual sensibilities as they were beyond the reach of the mainstream European art-historical tradition.

Dubuffet became fascinated by his new surroundings, and captured its novelty in an exciting body of work. In the present work, two of the most important figures from El Golea, which are recurring motifs throughout the series, are depicted in their desert surroundings: the Bedouin with his bright white dress, and the camel. Portrayed against an imposing sand dune with a distant blue sky, the composition powerfully captures the artist’s stay in the desert, and the alternative it offered to the visual traditions of the West. In its privileging of feeling and colour over any formalist concerns, Palmiers aux Bedouins embodies the spirit of Dubuffet’s post-war oeuvre.

Boundless: Dubai

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Dubai