Membership in the Académie des Beaux-arts is the highest honour that the French official can bestow upon an artist. Bernard Buffet became the youngest person to receive this honour in 1974; Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, two modern Chinese artists, were also named to the Academy in 1997 and 2002 respectively. For this season’s evening auction, Buffet shares the stage with these two post-war Asian artists, as well as the French lyrical abstractionist painter Georges Mathieu. The works by these French academicians will be shown together at this evening sale, exhibiting their abundant similarities and highlighting the successful blending of the strengths of Eastern and Western aesthetics that took hold in international art circles during the post-war period.
In the dynamic environment of post-war Paris, Buffet, a young painter brimming with talent, received widespread attention from art circles and society alike. At only eighteen years old, he was named by the authoritative French magazine Connaissance des arts to their list of “Ten Important Post-War Artists”. Buffet made a name for himself at a very young age, and his dazzling brilliance influenced the styles of the times and created a commercial phenomenon. But throughout the ups and downs of his careers, he remained independent in thought and action, persisted in his core beliefs, and never surrendered to the pressures of popular opinion. At a time in which abstract art was widely popular, this bold, uninhibited, and talented artist never strayed from figurative expressive methods. He saved the post-war art scene from succumbing to homogeneity. The artist resolutely stated: “Abstract painting is full of limitations, and it’s uninteresting. But figurative painting is unconstrained.” In terms of philosophy, Buffet’s rigid adherence to figurative art is reminiscent of Wu Guanzhong’s dedication to painting from life. These two European and Asian post-war masters enjoyed equal influence as they carved interconnected new paths in the development of figurative painting.
An Earthly Paradise of the Genius
The creative inspiration for La piscine de la baume (Lot 1025) came from La Baume, Buffet’s manor in the south of France. Far from the hubbub of cities, Buffet’s final residence offered him a peaceful refuge from the world. This exquisite and tranquil mansion fulfilled Buffet’s desire for a peaceful environment in his later years, allowing him to work as he pleased and continue his passionate exploration of painting. His fondness for La Baume is evident in his work. In the book of his oeuvre published by his long-time gallery, Galerie Maurice Garnier, paintings of La Baume constitute a chapter of their own. From indoor spaces including the parlour and drawing room to outdoor features such as the columns and the swimming pool, every corner of the manor was documented on the painter’s canvases. La piscine de la baume, featured in this auction, offers a grand view of the manor’s exterior. The spacious dimensions of the canvas correspond to the subject of the painting series and lend it additional collection value. Prior to painting this series, Buffet often took the miseries of real life as his main subject, portraying an unbearably painful world with a heavily existential tone. His paintings of melancholy clowns are particularly well known. However, La piscine de la baume diverges from those gloomy moods, expressing a rare blue sky with white clouds that reflect the exultant feelings of the artist when he painted this work.
Buffet uses nimble brushwork to create succinct and bold lines. His extraordinary descriptive ability negates the need for drafts, and he outlines objects with a sure hand, including the sunshine and patches of rain clouds in the upper part of the canvas. His lines express a style that is both of the times and also highly individual, as described by the art historian Alexandre Roob: “Buffet is a fanatic of line. The lines of his brush fully incorporate the Eastern elements of French modernism, the influence of Egyptian hieroglyphics of the expressionism of Georges Rouault and Alfred Manessier, and line sketching of modern illustration.” The black lines express an intense evocation of calligraphy, which may have earned his paintings the attentions of Japanese art collectors while also inspiring many Asian modern artists, including Shiy De-Jinn. This work by the master of the new figurative school of Western painting brilliantly complements the major works by Asian painters of the same post-war period also featured in this auction. Those works highlight the painting’s Eastern elements, which are certainly no coincidence. This work originates in a private Asian collection which has released it to the auction market with an attractive estimate, marking an extraordinary opportunity to take home a work by Buffet.
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