- Jean Dubuffet
- signed, titled and dated 61; signed, titled and dated mars 61 on the reverse
oil on canvas
Acquired by the present owner from the above in October 1961
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Dubuffet, March - June 1993, cat. no. 83, illustrated in color
Lugano, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Tra luce impressionista e materia informale: da Pissarro a Dubuffet, February - April 1997
Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, Jean Dubuffet – Figuren und Köpfe. Auf der Suche nach einer Gegenkultur, September - November 1999, cat. no. 45, illustrated
Andreas Franzke, Dubuffet, Cologne, 1990, pl. no. 27, illustrated in color
When Dubuffet left Paris, he was abandoning a war-scarred and melancholy city. However when he returned to the French capital in 1961, he found a city completely different to the one he had left. Optimism and cosmopolitan bustle had replaced the gloom and despondency that had formerly prevailed. This new vibrant atmosphere was intoxicating for Dubuffet and had an immediate, explosive effect on his work, culminating in the exuberant Paris Circus pictures. Where formerly - for instance in his Texturologies executed in Vence - nature had been the source of his investigations, now city life itself came to dominate his paintings. Where he had celebrated life on a minute scale, he now celebrated humanity on a monumental scale. Inspired by the city’s teeming boulevards and animated dwellers, Dubuffet transformed their energetic spirit into the subject of his art. There is something quintessentially Parisian in the crowds of people who populate this broad panorama of city life: the picture hums with movement, with the joie-de-vivre of a burgeoning era of prosperity that has usurped the post-war era of rationing and shortages. Painted in kaleidoscopic reds, blues, greens and yellows, the pedestrians appear to swell and sway, tracing their voyage through modern life with the compulsive anxiety of trapped animals. Each character tells a tale - each is involved in his or her own arcane and hieratic act.
The bustling panoramas of the Paris Circus resemble the views of Paris and the subway pictures that Dubuffet painted in the early 1940s, although the texture, space and deployment of figures have become significantly more complex. In Trinité Champs-Elysées the result is a jumbled panoramic view of the city in which people, cars and lettering make up a flat pattern of imbricated forms perfectly distilling the chaos of the scene. This flattened perspectival plane, compressed distance and unnerving bird’s-eye viewpoint which ruthlessly crops the three figures along the bottom edge, are all compositional devices redolent of naïve children’s art and most importantly the raw and unfettered vision of psychotic art that so vitally informed Dubuffet’s entire oeuvre. Categorically opposed to ‘cultivated’ art taught in schools and museums, Dubuffet denounced the selective character of official culture. First among a group of post-war artists to dismiss repressive convention, Dubuffet nurtured the concept of art informel, a spontaneous and imaginative art that rejected any effect of harmony or beauty in a bid to break free of tradition.
Firmly believing that styles and schools hamper rather than train our artistic understanding of the world, here Dubuffet has tapped into the unrefined vitality that is lost through teaching and discipline. His early, pre-War works tended to be influenced by artists like Suzanne Valadon, but now he managed to 'unteach' himself everything that he had learnt and in so doing to rediscover a potent and unrestrained vision of the world. In Trinité Champs-Elysées, he has translated this vision onto canvas. The heads of the individuals appear as bubbles, disproportionate and child-like; each wide open face conversely a closed and concealed world in itself. Dubuffet's interest in sound and music, which he especially developed over the next two years, intrudes into Trinité Champs-Elysées - the sounds of the traffic, the klaxons and engines are almost palpable. Despite the child-like reduction of the human forms in this painting, the density of detail is itself incredible, the product not of the untrained but of a consistent and assiduous artistic project.
The inscriptions, drawn from and satirizing the street signs, shop fronts and advertisements of the new economy, consist of plays on words which have associative as well as formal functions. In their relationship to the figures, they recall Dubuffet’s interest in early 15th century woodcuts in which pictures and didactic text are combined in a single print, a tradition that continues in popular imagery into the twentieth century with the comic-strip. This fusion of low-brow, ‘base’ media into the sacrosanct realm of Fine Art is consistent with Dubuffet’s irreverent, anti-cultural perspective and provides an interesting European analogue to contemporaneous developments in the nascent American Pop movement, particularly in the work of Claes Oldenburg. Consistently ahead of his time, Dubuffet’s chromatic background, particularly in the upper tier of the composition which is pulled and scraped across the canvas in varying layers, presages Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bilds executed two decades later.
The sheer density of life in this work is emphasized by the density of impasto. Where Dubuffet had recently been using such textures to instill a sense of soil and nature, here he has scratched and sculpted his paint to form the figures and details of the Paris streets. Dubuffet has used the impasto layers in part to make the human presence absolutely unambiguous; both the obvious human figures in the composition and also the presence of the artist discernible in the visible traces of his painterly application. Comparing his 1961 Paris Circus works to his previous, more impersonal output, Dubuffet said that, ``The principle thing about [my paintings of this year] is that they are in complete contrast to those of the Texturology and Materiology series that I did previously. They are in every way the opposite… In reaction against this absenteeist tendency my paintings of this year put into play in all respects a very different intervention. The presence in them of the painter now is constant, even exaggerated. They are full of personages, and this time their role is played with spirit.'' (Jean Dubuffet, `‘Statement on Paintings of 1961’’ cited in Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 165).