Lot 138
  • 138

Jean Dubuffet

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jean Dubuffet
  • Scene épisodique à deux protagonistes
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 74; signed, titled and dated 74 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 80 by 51 1/8 in. 203.2 by 129.9 cm.


Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Alex Maguy, Paris
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
Christie's, New York, 12 November 2003, Lot 350 (consigned by the above)
Galerie Boulakia, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2005


Paris, Centre National d'Art Contemporain; Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Paysages Castillans, Sites Tricolores, February - May 1975, cat. no. 27 (Paris), cat. no. 13 (Basel), illustrated (Paris)


Max Loreau, Ed., Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XXVIII: Roman Burlesque, Sites Tricolores, Paris 1979, cat. no. 184b, pp. 136-137, illustrated

Catalogue Note

"This cycle of work was characterized by a much more seriously arbitrary and irrational mood than anything I had done before. This was a plunge into fantasy, into a phantom parallel universe. My renewed interest in outsider art was no doubt not unconnected with this sudden new development."
Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet was steadfast in his creative vision, and his art is remarkable for the variety with which he explored every aspect of its expression. It reached perhaps its best-known phase with L’Hourloupe, an idiom he coined in the early 1960s while doodling at the telephone, in which black lines framed cells of unmixed vinyl paint, often red and blue. In his quest for rawness and novelty in his own art, Dubuffet passed through many different styles or periods, the astonishing variety and vivaciousness to which Dubuffet approached each series reached its pinnacle in L’Hourloupe. Dubuffet’s restless innovation and mining of new sources of inspiration placed his work as some of the most exciting and lauded to come out of Europe at a time that New York dominated the art world. The notoriously belligerent critic Clement Greenberg, writing in 1949, declared Dubuffet to be “perhaps the one new painter of real importance to have appeared on the scene in Paris in the last decade.”

Recognized as the most enduring series within the artist’s oeuvre, L'Hourloupe, a subset of Art Brut, evolved from simple automatic telephone doodles. Scene épisodique à deux protagonistes is a remarkable painting that was created at the peak of the series and Dubuffet’s maturation of the technique. "L’Hourloupe" is a nonsensical French word “whose invention was based upon its sound. In French, these sounds suggest some wonderland or grotesque object or creature, while at the same time they evoke something rumbling and threatening with tragic overtones. Both are implied” (the artist cited in "Remarks on the Unveiling of The Group of Four Trees," New York, 24 October, 1972, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, Exh. Cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1973). Doodling allowed Dubuffet to draw from his subconscious as a means of accessing the most primitive nature within him. Dubuffet limited his color palette to only black, white, red and blue, further eliminating expressionism as a function of color.  The artist employed vinyl paint, ballpoint pen and marker for they are fast and precise instruments used by industrial designers. The cellular structure and methodical stripes are also a reference to technical drawing and graphic design.

The series occupied Dubuffet for over a decade and represented a marked shift in his dialogue. Most strikingly was the radical simplification of the color palette. This reduction was applied to the recurrent subjects of his life-long activity – the themes of the human figure, landscape, and the mundane object–coalesced in these works, spreading and flowing into one another, contoured by black outlines and populated with a predominance of primary red and blue zones on a white ground. The result is, as maintained by Gaëton Picon, “a true system, a net in which everything is caught, a grille through which everything is seen, in fact an alphabet…with which everything is said: a set of preconditions for imaginative perception, within which it is possible to see everything, and outside which it is not possible to see anything” (Gaëton Picon cited in Exh. Cat., London, Waddington Galleries, Jean Dubuffet, 1972, p. 39). Implicit in this evaluation is the notion of utter absorption, visually and psychically, within the painted surface, a sensation that is inescapable when confronting the present work.

For the painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet, genuine art was chaotic, unlearned, and driven by “instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” It was created by those who had no schooling in the arts. “There was more art and poetry in the talk of a young barber,” he wrote in 1945, “than among the specialists in art and poetry.” He believed the best examples were found in the work of the mentally ill, who, he argued, were unafraid of the “ecstasies of the mind,” which served as a private reserve for their work. Doodling, the source of all of the L’Hourloupe series, was a way for Dubuffet to access such “ecstasies of the mind.” Dubuffet’s work, as art historian Aruna D’Souza has written, is conspicuous as a model for a new kind of art. It affirmed, in part, Abstract-Expressionism’s “vulgar” impulses: in 1947, Dubuffet was showing abstract figures incised into impastoed paint with the wrong end of a paint brush or with his fingers; at the same moment, Pollock was beginning to pour skeins of house paint across canvases that also included nails, tacks, coins, and cigarettes. Throughout his career Dubuffet strove to work in a more automatic way and in L’Hourloupe works the instinctual sketch found its way as a critical tool to bypass conscious creation. Dubuffet wanted to express man’s natural state rather than his cultural afterthoughts: “When one has looked at a painting of this kind, one looks at everything with a new refreshed eye, and one learns to see the unaccustomed and amusing side of things. When I say amusing, I do not mean solely the funny side, but also the grand, the moving and even the tragic aspects [of ordinary things]" (Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, 1973, p. 23).