The Carnival of Paris: Three Works by Jean Dubuffet

The Carnival of Paris: Three Works by Jean Dubuffet

Three works by Jean Dubuffet will be offered during Sotheby’s Art Contemporain Evening sale in Paris, illustrating the artist’s unique vision of the French capital when he returned to live there at the start of the 1960s.
Three works by Jean Dubuffet will be offered during Sotheby’s Art Contemporain Evening sale in Paris, illustrating the artist’s unique vision of the French capital when he returned to live there at the start of the 1960s.

W hat a wonderful promise of a better future Dubuffet made to his contemporaries when, on 7 September 1961, he created Légende du Bonheur, at a time when France was mired in the last turbulences of the Algerian war, and on the eve of the near miss attack of the General de Gaulle on the road to Colombey-les-deux-Eglises.

Very first of Dubuffet's Personnage des Légendes, and one of the few on canvas, Légende du bonheur is certainly among the most accomplished pieces of this short yet exceptional cycle. Part of the Paris Circus cycle, it paved the way for the Hourloupe. Légende du Bonheur is a vibrant testimony of Dubuffet's incredible ability to pull various strings at the same time, without ever losing in intensity or making mundane compromises.

With its jubilant palette of colors and its unique "totally non-intentional" pictorial vigor – according to Max Loreau – Légende du Bonheur is the quintessence of this Art Brut Dubuffet championed. For if the artist had long been persuaded that only "solitary psychopaths and mediums could tell the real path of artistic creation", the Légendes truly "allowed him to see a bit clearer in his aspirations" (ibid.) and propelled him to the peak of his art, leaving a definitive mark in the history of art.

1961 marked the beginning of a new cycle in Dubuffet's work, today widely considered as his absolute masterpiece. With Paris Circus, the artist put aside his enigmatic "materiologic" researches for a sort of whirlwind, "a restless wellspring (...) ready to project flakes of chaos around", both magnetic and extravagant (Jean Dubuffet, Délits, Déportements, Lieux de haut jeu, Max Loreau, 1971, p. 391). Dubuffet's mineral and ascetical approach gave way to city effervescence, the hubbub of streets, shops and boutiques with their touching collapsible protagonists.

"To those who don't find the world to their liking, I advise not to try to change the world, but to change what they like. Jean Dubuffet"

Here, Dubuffet uses urban structures to create hectic works. Rue Boissy d'Anglas (au Boudin Mystique) shows an exuberant microcosm filled with polychromatic shapes emblematic of the circus this representative of raw art set out to bluntly depict, disrupting artistic conventions in a visual chaos he came to master. The work thus reconnects with the vibrant and bubbly cityscapes the artist had set aside for some time. Created in the middle of the winter of 1961 and for the first time exhibited by the mythical Daniel Cordier gallery only a few blocks away from the very chic rue Boissy d'Anglas, a famous artery of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the work here presented was first acquired by Jean Planque, who kept it in his private collection for many years, probably considering it as a quintessential example of the prolific and fabulous career of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, who succeeded in "opening the floodgates of imagination in reality" (Max Loreau).

Started on 24 October 1962, and finished on 12 May 1964, the bewitching Paris Plaisir series consists of only six pieces, among which only four are still in private hands, as Paris Plaisir I is kept at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs of Paris and Paris Plaisir IV at the Musée Granet, in Aix en Provence.

As one of the first expressions of the Hourloupe cycle, a perfect symbiosis between the distorted cityscapes and the hypnotic colorful compositions of Paris Circus, Paris Plaisir II is a work of historical importance. It captures the evolution of Dubuffet's art and provides the undeniable proof of his creative genius as well as unique artistic vision beyond the conventional framework of art.

Announcing the mind-blowing Paris Plaisir VI, sold a year and a half ago at Sotheby's Paris for the record price of one million and a half dollars, Paris Plaisir II was showed in the framework of the famous exhibition L'Hourloupe Di Jean Dubuffet held at the Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume di Palazzo Grassi on the fringe of the 32nd Venice Biennale in 1964.

Kept nearly four decades in a prestigious French collection, Paris Plaisir II shows a dense and cheerful scene which style many wrongly likened to cartoon. But in reality, far from being a mere childish doodle, Paris Plaisir II is a piece of unpretentious, incredibly contemporary and poetical art inspired by a popular folklore Dubuffet celebrates.

Contemporary Art

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