Lot 141
  • 141

Jean Dubuffet

220,000 - 280,000 GBP
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  • Jean Dubuffet
  • Portrait Putatif
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 69
  • polyester paint on polyurethane
  • 85.5 by 36 by 21cm.; 36 5/8 by 14 1/8 by 8 1/4 in.


The Pace Gallery, New York
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Sale: Christie's, New York, Twentieth Century Art, 10 November 1999, Lot 656
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Arbres, Murs, Architectures, Paris, 1974, fasc. XXV, p. 56, no. 59 illustrated


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals a small number of tiny specks of loss scattered along the extreme outer edges. Some light surface dirt adheres to the upper surfaces. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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

The father of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet redrew the line between beauty and Man’s natural instincts. Inspired by those outside the boundaries of official culture, from the art of children to the mentally ill and the ‘primitive,’ he effectively un-taught artistic and social conventions, making him one of the most celebrated artists of the Twentieth Century. “For me,” he famously announced, “insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity."

Portrait Putatif is exemplar of this cultural re-appraisal, which Dubuffet eloquently catalyzed to find a new and authentic visual syntax. He dubbed this style “l'hourloupe,” a word he invented, but which is aptly onomatopoeic to describe the oscillating flatness that has become so synonymous with his work. L'hourloupe began as a doodle during a telephone call in 1962, a hybrid surrealist drawing in its unself-conscious trance. This bold line over stark white has the effect of a controlled clumsiness and graffiti; a child-like archetype that seems expressive yet mechanic.

Reminiscent of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Portrait Putatif quotes the physical presence of the carved tribal mask in its disjointed caricature. Both works instantaneously guise and disguise, representing less of an individual identity than a non-descript typology. The title of the work plays on this contradiction in terms as a “Presumed Portrait,” which cannot be associated with one person but is easily prescribed to a culture. The face sits on a plinth in the manner of a classical bust, or perhaps as a tribal mask display, which both Picasso and Dubuffet collected. Indeed, Basquiat adopted this brand of urban primitivism that plays between identity and prototypical stamp.

Perspective and illusion are two of the filters Dubuffet shatters in this endeavour to dismantle empirical thought and celebrate the pre-reflexive mind.  However, Portrait Putatif does not simply negate these qualities so much as strike an articulate balance between them. The aggressive and yet finely decorative line relieves the flatness of the polystyrene block while simultaneously reinforcing it. In this way Dubuffet clothes this form in a self-mocking figuration, locking it in a juxtaposed embrace. The sculpture seems both heavy and light, both organic and synthetic.

This seemingly false means that insinuate virtual ends is tied together by a molecular aesthetic, perhaps another nod to identity in that human cells, though hyper-individualized, look uncharacteristically similar.  The effect of this cellular vocabulary, insinuates a kaleidoscopic, infinitely expanding multiplicity. We are invited to continue this all-over chaotic accumulation in our minds eye. It is this potential for growth- which was eventually brought to fruition in Dubuffet’s “Jardin d’Hiver” environment the following year- that makes this work so engaging; it brings the viewer into an active collaboration with the work.