Lot 215
  • 215

Bernard Buffet

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Bernard Buffet
  • Clown
  • Signed Bernard Buffet (upper right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 36 1/4 by 26 in.
  • 92.2 by 65.9 cm


Garden Gallery, Nice
Acquired from the above on March 1, 1984


This work is in excellent condition. The canvas has not been lined. The colors are rich and vibrant and the impasto has been well preserved. Under UV light: certain original pigments fluoresce but no inpanting is apparent.
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.

Catalogue Note

At once a traditional painter and unwitting member of the French avant-garde, Buffet's hand-crafted style and prolific output evoke an off-kilter alternative to the spectacular commercial serialism of Pop. The kind of popularity that burst upon Buffet as a young painter in the 1950s is quite unparalleled in the twentieth-century visual arts in terms of both its intensity and its broad social reach. Buffet’s art was, as the author Maurice Druon wrote as late as the mid-1960s, “on the street.” It was to be found on the covers of magazines and LPs, on postcards, postage stamps, wall plates, giftwrap and plastic bags. 

Buffet may well be one of the most controversial artists in recent memory: from the inception of his career to the present day, the artist has been considered everything from an overnight millionaire, a popstar and an iconoclast to a recluse; his works have been called everything from challenging and kitsch to taboo to transformative; they have been celebrated, abandoned and celebrated once again. Yet whether Buffet’s works are loved or hated, it is impossible to ignore the fierce response they evoke. Buffet's oeuvre appears as a parade of graphic adventures through a repertoire of macabre yet contemporary subjects, and his images have a confrontational quality that is brutal yet provocative. Thick slabs of paint are applied through the use of a broad palette knife. Coarse, physical and intense, there is a tension innate in Buffet’s works that ultimately imbues them with the power to withstand the test of time.

The clown is Buffet’s most iconic recurring subject, and it profoundly encapsulates the theme of “miserablism” which has long been associated with his art. In many ways the clown stands in as an avatar for—or even self portrait of—Buffet himself. As published in Der Speigel in 1960, “Bernard Buffet, 34, painter of the ‘miserables,’ owner of a Rolls-Royce, whose figures with their elongated proportions are no longer being rewarded by French art dealers in line with the bestseller lists, has painted a 20 sq. m. cinema poster for the ballad of the wide boys, ‘Terrain Vague,’ by that old master among directors, Marcel Carné. The eye-catcher on the façade shows someone wearing blue jeans who resembles the young Bernard Buffet in a stylized downtrodden district of town” (Der Spiegel, November 30, 1960). Indeed, Buffet recognized a sense of his own experience, not to mention the popular zeitgeist of post-war France, in the films of Marcel Carné. This connection is further underscored in Alexander Roob’s essay for a major Buffet retrospective at the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main, where he notes: “The silent melancholy of the tragic white clown who plays the lead role in Marcel Carné’s film Les enfants du paradis was someone with whom the Parisian population one year after Liberation could identify collectively” (Alexander Roob, “Bernard Buffet: Terrain Vague - Terrain Dangereux,” in Bernard Buffet, Maler, Painter, Peintre (exhibition catalogue), Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main, Frankfurt Maine, 2008, p. 49).