Lot 2
  • 2

Jean Fautrier

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Jean Fautrier
  • L'Homme qui est Malheureux
  • signed with the artist's intitial and dated 47 

  • oil and mixed media on paper laid down on canvas
  • 44 by 59cm.
  • 17 3/8 by 23 1/4 in.


Galerie Tarica, Paris
Acquired directly from the above in 1960


Venice, Pavilion Central, XXX Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte, Jean Fautrier, (Grand Prix International), 1960, no. 63
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Jean Fautrier, 1964, no. 48
Munich, Modern Art Museum, Sammlung Gunter Sachs, 1967
Paris, Galerie Michel Couturier, Fautrier: Otages 1942-45, 1968, no. 20
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Jean Fautrier 1898-1964, 1989, p. 126, no. 116, illustrated in colour
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions Privée: Collections Particulières d'Art Moderne et Contemporain en France, 1995-96, p. 446, no. 7, illustrated
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Paris: Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968, 2002, no. 166
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Rétrospective Jean Fautrier, 2004-05, no. 55
Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, L'Envolée Paris: 1945-1956, 2006


Michel Ragon, Fautrier, Paris 1958, p. 23, illustrated in colour
Palma Bucarelli, Jean Fautrier, Pittura e Materia, Milan 1960, p. 325, no. 199, illustrated
Yves Peyré, Fautrier ou Les Outrages de L'impossible, Paris 1990, p. 238, illustrated in colour
Curtis L. Carter and Karen K. Butler, Jean Fautrier 1898-1964, Seattle 2002, p. 117, no. 26, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the actual work. Condition: This work is in very good condition overall. When examined out of the frame, there is a tiny indent and loss to the upper section of the extreme right edge, and one to the upper section of the left turnover edge. There is tape around the edges of the composition. There are some tiny losses to the impasto in places and some hairline drying cracks inherent to the artist's choice of medium. When examined under ultra-violet light there are several areas that fluoresce and appear to be retouchings; one adjacent to the figure's nose; one beneath the right section of the top edge and several further small spots in the lower left hand quadrant.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1960 Gunter Sachs developed a firm friendship with Jean Fautrier that would prove instrumental in his development as a young collector. Shortly after completing his university studies in Lausanne in 1958 and swiftly following the death of his father, Sachs moved and settled in Paris during a significant period for the French avant-garde. Despite differences in cultural background and the significant age gap between both men, a strong kinship was cemented by a reciprocal mutuality in temperament – an edgy quality Fautrier fondly referred to in conversation as "Nous, les enragés..."  (the artist cited in: Pierre Restany, 'The Gunter Sachs Collection: A Confession to Contemporary Art', Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Modern Art Museum Munich, Sammalung Gunter Sachs, 1967, n.p.). The lasting friendship that prospered between Sachs and Fautrier, cut short only by the artist's death in 1964, was cultivated by an enthusiasm for Informel and Nouveau Réalisme; an enthusiasm moreover that translated into the mainstay of Sachs collecting activity throughout the 1960s, which significantly amassed one of the most impressive and comprehensive collections of works by Fautrier himself.

Executed in 1947 Jean Fautrier's L'homme qui est malheureux is a superlative work belonging to the corpus of paintings proceeding the Otages (Hostages); the body of work which truly cemented the artist's reputation as a formidable and important artistic voice in 1945. Representing a remarkable conflation of abstract lyricism and intense melancholia, L'homme qui est malheureux, which translates as 'The Man Who is Unhappy', stands as a truly stunning response to human embodiment and experience in the immediate post-war moment. With his breakthrough exhibition in 1945, Fautrier had found a means of painterly expression inexorably linked with the reality of pain and suffering in the devastating wake of World War II. In repudiating the canon of cool geometric abstraction with its detachment from immediate reality, Fautrier and Art Informel opened up an artistic dialogue entrenched in visceral materiality and directly tied to raw human experience. Here, the thickly textured suggestion of a man's head lays prostrate and powerless; immobilized and isolated in the centre of the composition his intensely mournful eyes and a gaping mouth evoke a silent crying figure floating against a ground of serene and gossamer blue. In this sense, L'homme qui est malheureux stands alongside the tortured countenance of Fautrier's antecedent Otages: as articulated by André Malruax, these "hieroglyphs of suffering" bare the trace of fractured and scarred corporeality whilst their compositional harmony and poetic deployment of line posit them as works of powerfully tragic beauty (André Malraux cited in: Michel Ragon, Fautrier, New York 1958, p.25). Ten years after Picasso expressed the horror of martyred Spain in his epic masterpiece Guernica, Fautrier had enlisted a serene yet enigmatic aesthetic language to advance powerful reflections on the worst atrocities of the Twentieth Century.


During the war Fautrier's Parisian studio was renowned as a rendezvous point for intellectuals and artist's associated with the French Resistance; notaries such as Malraux, Francis Ponge, Jean-Paul Satre, Jean Paulhan and Paul Éluard frequented Fautrier's studio as a site for political refuge. However, in January 1943, after having his studio searched by the Gestapo and spending a brief period of time in prison, Fautrier abandoned Paris to seek shelter in a psychiatric asylum in nearby Châtenay-Malabry.  It was here that Fautrier was exposed first-hand to the depravity and murderous inhumanity of the Nazi's as they tortured and executed prisoners at night in the woods surrounding the sanatorium. Bearing audible witness to these atrocities, Fautrier was impelled to bestow visual expression to the unnameable and appalling crimes heard from the darkness. Though the artist had enjoyed a reputation prior to 1945, it took the wounded and anonymous corpses and victims of the firing squad, to shake Fautrier into his mature ground-breaking style.


These works expressed the need to forge a response the emerging artistic currents of the post-war era; as Jean Paulhan, writer and friend of the intellectual elite in Paris, reminded veiwers, Fautrier's work does not portray an inner world, but "a world excessive and monstrous, violent and almost abusive" (Jean Paulhan cited in: Karen K. Butler, 'Fautrier's First Critics: André Malraux, Jean Paulhan and Francis Ponge', Exhibition Catalogue, Milwaukee, The Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art; New York, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery; Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Jean Fautrier, 2002-2003, p.45). Via his developed technique of Haute Pâte, Fautrier conjured direct sensory and physical experience, a reality founded in material tension directly communicative of emotive associations. This was achieved by a rejection of canvas painting; instead Fautrier chose to work the Haute Pâte onto paper which would then be laid on canvas. As outlined by the artist: "The canvas is now merely a support for the paper. The thick paper is covered with sometimes thick layers of a plaster – the picture is painted on this moist paper – this plaster makes the paint adhere to the paper perfectly – it has the virtue of fixing the colours in powder, crushed pastels, gouache, ink, and also oil paint – it is above all thanks to these coats of plaster that the mixture can be produced so well and the quality of the matter is achieved" (the artist cited in: Karen K. Butler, 'Fautrier's First Critics: André Malrauz, Jean Paulhan and Francis Ponge', Op. Cit., pp.43-44). The importance of painted matter is paramount in Fautrier's work; the undulating accumulation of craters, ravines and crevices imparts a delicate beauty to the somatic anguish depicted. Though mournfully testament to the worst betrayals of mankind, the poetic relation between the thick crackled ground and the delicate pastel tones posit L'homme qui est malheureux as among the most poignantly elegant of Fautrier's distinguished oeuvre.