- Jean Dubuffet
- Escalier III
- signed and dated 67; signed, titled and dated Mars 1967 on the reverse
- acrylic on canvas
Dr. Maunoury-Joignul, Quimper
Galerie Baudoin-Lebon, Paris
Private Collection, Florida
Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, 7 May 1997, Lot 62
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Retrospektive, 1985-86, n.p., no. 30, illustrated in colour
New York, Gallery Urban, Jean Dubuffet Retrospective, 1986, n.p., no. 14, illustrated
Tokyo, Art Centre Hall, Dubuffet, 1986, n.p., no. 14, illustrated
The Escalier series, encompassing thirty-three works, was created in the first part of 1967; examples are now held in the permanent collections at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum Boijman von Beuningen. In focussing on such a fundamental architectural feature as a stair case, Dubuffet was acting in a manner archetypal of the Art Brut school that he founded; he eschewed the paradigms of high art and rejected the historically grandiose subject matters of Western culture in favour of mundane objects from everyday life. 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]" (Jean Dubuffet quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Solomon Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, 1973, p. 23). According to these criteria, the present work is to be considered consummately successful.
However, even amongst the quotidian subjects immortalised by Dubuffet, the Escaliers are significant. The artist had lived on the Rue de Vaugirard near Montparnasse in Paris since 1945 and stayed there until his death forty years later. It had been purpose built in 1928 by avant-garde architect Auguste Perret as a studio/residence for the polish painter Mela Muter; Dubuffet absolutely adored it. He wrote to Perret in 1946: “I understand that the architecture of these parts, arrangements and proportions of the walls, doors, partitions, are a language, that constantly speaks to the ear of the user of the house” (Jean Dubuffet quoted in: Edouard Launet, ‘Dubuffet or Spirit of the Staircase’, Libération, 9 December 2013, online resource). Within the building, the stairs were perhaps his favourite part: “I assure you that I go up and down every day at least twenty times more than necessary” (Ibid.). Thus, in this context, the subject of this work – already apt for the artistic movement in which it was created – takes on a mood of personal affection and familiarity.
The Hourloupe cycle, the culmination of Dubuffet’s pictorial ambitions and the wider series to which the present work belongs, was begun in 1962 in the year after the artist returned to Paris from an extended stay in Vence in the South of France. The series, which occupied Dubuffet for over a decade, represented a marked shift in his dialogue. 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, are “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 quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, 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.