"This Boeuf écorché is extraordinary! It is a real great piece of painting, a challenge that he threw himself and that he has perfectly succeeded. He obviously thought of Rembrandt, he obviously thought of Soutine, one of the rare artists of his time for whom he had esteem.[...] Bernard always told the story of the beef carcass Soutine kept for eight days in his studio. The neighbours were alarmed by the smell. There is evidently a precision in Buffet's painting that does not exist with Soutine."
Bœuf écorché is an expression of Bernard Buffet's admiration for the old masters. An admirer of Dürer, Rembrandt, Chardin, David and Courbet, Bernard Buffet regularly visited the Louvre when it reopened after the war in 1946. His love of old painting doubtless comes from here and this confrontation can be found throughout his work, from his still-lifes, sometimes directly inspired by masterpieces from the Louvre, to his portraits imbued with a powerful hieratic character inspired by great 17th century portraits.
In his Boeuf écorché, Bernard Buffet pays a direct tribute to Rembrandt. The theme of the skinned carcass was already present in Bernard Buffet's work. A few years earlier the young painter had reinterpreted Rembrandt's mythical subject in Le Garçon boucher (1949, Surugadaira, Musée Bernard Buffet), Etal de boucherie (1949) and le Bœuf écorché (1950, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris).
This painting is however the first time that Bernard Buffet was to quote so directly the Dutch painter's masterpiece, both in its framing and its use of palette. As in the Louvre painting, the beef carcass emerges from the canvas alone, its majesty further increased by the monumental format. The grey and blue tones, so characteristic of Bernard Buffet's post-war painting, give way here to brown and red colors, more directly evocative of the animal's skinned flesh and source of inspiration for the painter.
in doing so, Bernard Buffet fits into a long tradition of painters who have reinterpreted Rembrandt's emblematic work over the 20th century, from Chaim Soutine, for whom it was a preferred subject and who Bernard Buffet greatly admired, to Marc Chagall who painted Le Boeuf écorché in 1947 (Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou). In 1954, the same year as Bernard Buffet's painting, Francis Bacon produced his famous Figure with meat (Art Institute of Chicago), having already interpreted the skinned carcass in various compositions since 1946.
In the same manner he painted his Ecorchés in 1964, Bernard Buffet adopts a huge size here, depriving the figure of any attributes, he explores colour and matter through thick layers of paint, endowing the work with a carnal aspect. As Maurice Sérullaz emphasized in 1954, the very year the work was produced, "whatever is said or thought about Bernard Buffet and his choice of subject, it is no less true that his art is that of a master. [...] We thus penetrate into the veritable universe recreated by Bernard Buffet, and disregarding the apparent ugliness, we capture the universal beauty, as we capture the beauty of Rembrandt's skinned carcass, Gericault's corpses and madmen, certain portraits by Goya or Degas's Viol. Bernard Buffet's works are harmonious in composition and colour. A rhythm which connects him to the great medieval or classic masters bestows grandeur, I would even say a nobility of style."
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