Bernard Buffet’s deep knowledge of the history of painting – he often studied at the Louvre – is reflected in his still-lifes and even more so in his Vanités, often inspired by 17th century models. In Vanité painted in 1955, all the key iconographical elements of the genre are present: the skull placed on the table next to a candle and encircled by rosary beads. The yellow background represents the sun and life, the light of Provence that was so dear to the artist, but also passing time, symbolized by the burning candle. The skull and the rosary beads are a reminder of death but also the religious intercession of hope of the hereafter.
1955 was one of the artist’s most important periods of creativity. Bernard Buffet shared an intense relationship with Pierre Bergé to whom this painting is dedicated, and his career was booming. Bergé wrote: "… during these years, I saw him paint, and build his work up. I saw the chrysalis become a butterfly." (Pierre Bergé, "Il avait 21 ans et moi 19", Rétrospective Bernard Buffet, Paris, Musé d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2016-17, p. 97).
Bernard Buffet had finished his large triptych Horreur de la Guerre, exhibited in 1955 at the Drouant-David gallery. The same year Connaissance des Arts magazine published a referendum in which Bernard Buffet was nominated one of the ten best painters since the Liberation of Paris, by 100 personalities from the art world. This painting was thus produced in a period of great success, like a reminder, a Memento Mori, of the ephemerality of earthly things.
Pierre Bergé always kept this painting. At the end of his life it hung in pride of place in the apartment on the rue Bonaparte, alongside his famous collection of Vanités.
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