- Jean Dubuffet
- Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé)
- signed and dated 65; signed, titled and dated décembre 65 on the reverse
- acrylic on canvas
- 51 3/8 by 38 1/8 in. 130.5 by 97 cm.
Galerie Eva Buren, Stockholm
Harald Eliasch, Stockholm (acquired from the above in 1968)
Christie's, New York, 3 December 1992, Lot 38 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Stockholm, Galerie Burén, Jean Dubuffet: L'Hourloupe, October - November 1967, cat. no. 11, illustrated
Jean Dubuffet stands as one of the 20th Century’s most innovative artists, seminal in the creation of an idiosyncratic artistic vocabulary anchored by primitive, non-heroic modes of expression. Aptly naming this singular style Art Brut in 1946, Dubuffet eschewed the paradigms of high art and rejected the historically grandiose subject matters of Western culture in favor of the mundane objects found in everyday life. In a statement prepared for the artist’s retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1960, Dubuffet stressed this concept, proclaiming “I wanted to show them that things they consider ugly and have forgotten to see are really sublime wonders…I present my works in a posture of celebration. It is a lucid celebration, with all smokescreens and camouflage eliminated once and for all” (the artist in Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 182).
While Dubuffet’s entire oeuvre is dedicated to exalting the quotidian, it is no more apparent than in Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé), a masterful painting from the artist’s lauded L'Hourloupe cycle. The influential French art critic and author of the Jean Dubuffet catalogue raisonné Max Loreau humorously describes this series of Ustensiles Utopiques, to which the present work belongs, as a “domestic Noah’s Ark” (Max Loreau, Ed., Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XXI: L’Hourloupe II, Lausanne 1968, pp. 8-9) filled with faucets, sinks, lamps, tables, bottles, glasses and other household items. Each work in the series follows a consistent compositional structure: the object, abstractly rendered in a tangled web of interlocking Hourloupian reds, blues, whites and blacks is placed on a stark black background that is devoid of any potential signifiers of time and place. The steaming cup of tea and accompanying stirring spoon are almost unidentifiable, flattened and broken down into highly stylized jigsaw pieces that barely resemble the object’s original appearance. Painted on Christmas Day in 1965, the subtitle for the work—Orange Pékoé—evokes an additional sensory memory to an otherwise compressed image, as orange pekoe tea is known for its alpine taste.
At first glance, Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé) might appear as Dubuffet’s interpretation of Cubism. In the Musée des Arts Décoratifs statement, Dubuffet even posits an idea that relates back to the Cubist theory of painting multiple vantage points at once, declaring “Your eyes are very mobile, darting very quickly from object to object, blazing up and dimming out a thousand times a second, cutting off and then resuming…This can also be painted. It is magnificent. Painting can easily restore everything at once…A painting can arrest such plays of mobile and evanescent phenomena” (Op. Cit, p. 181). However the difference between Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé) and a Cubist example such as Picasso’s Glass of Absinthe is that Dubuffet’s painting is not just an exploration of space and time, rather it simultaneously pays homage to the banal without resorting to any traditional modes of representation.
With Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé) and the rest of the Ustensiles Utopiques, Dubuffet completely redefined the traditional genre of still life, ushering in a new brand of French Pop art. Simultaneously, Dubuffet’s American contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg were participating in the same revolution as they painted, sculpted and collaged their own interpretations of the ubiquitous consumer and mass-produced goods that had become so integral to their lives. Roy Lichtenstein’s Cup of Coffee from 1964 and Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake from 1962 exemplify the American Pop movement, presenting overly simplified and bold representational iterations of the familiar objects. Each artist believed he was achieving the most banal and crude forms possible, resulting in a rich visual vocabulary that has become the cornerstone of Post-War art history. A true immersive celebration of the ordinary, Tasse de Thé III (Orange Pékoé) is an impressive and superb example of Dubuffet’s distinctive artistic output.