Lot 9
  • 9

Jean Dubuffet

300,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • Jean Dubuffet
  • Théâtre Des Errements III
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 63
  • gouache on paper
  • 19 5/8 by 26 1/4 in. 49.8 by 66.7 cm.


Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Collection of Victor K. Kiam, New York
Niveau Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
By descent to the present owner


Paris, Galerie Claude Bernard, L'Hourloupe, Gouaches, December 1964 - January 1965, cat. no. 29, illustrated


Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XX: L'Hourloupe I, Paris, 1966, cat. no. 140, p. 71, illustrated
Andreas Franzke, Dubuffet, New York, 1981, p. 170, illustrated


This work is in very good condition overall. The sheet is hinged on the reverse to the backing board at the top two corners. There are artist's pinholes in all 4 corners and a soft crease in the top right corner. There is a minor pigment loss at the top left corner and at the top left edge of the sheet. There is a small accretion in the upper left quadrant, approximately 5 in. from the top edge. The top edge of the sheet is lightly deckled and there is pale time staining to the sheet. Soft, vertical creases are evident along the top edge. Scattered, hairline craquelure is evident throughout, particularly in the areas of beige pigment and there is a soft undulation to the sheet. Framed under Plexiglas.
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

Théâtre Des Errements III is an emblematic example of the early years of Jean Dubuffet’s most celebrated artistic series: L’Hourloupe. In 1963, after twenty years as an established artist, Dubuffet published a small book consisting of a collection of ballpoint pen doodles made while the artist was casually on the telephone – not actively considering what he was drawing. The title of the book, 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 quoted in: "Remarks on the Unveiling of The Group of Four Trees, New York, October 24, 1972," Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1973) The work’s spontaneous “wonderland” of lines and shapes, along with the plethora of (occasionally “tragic”) contrasting colors, is the absolute embodiment of Dubuffet’s initial concepts of his world-renowned Hourloupe series. Over the course of more than a decade, Dubuffet refined this artistic method into a pure and distinct mediation of abstraction and figuration that he believed could “dissolve the categories which our mind habitually employs to decipher the facts and spectacles of the world.” Furthermore, he believed “the circulation of the mind from one object to another, from one category to another will be liberated and its mobility greatly increased.” (bid, p. 26)

In regard to this freeing of the viewer’s mind, Théâtre Des Errements III is such a significant piece among the Hourloupe series given the stimulating tension it creates by anxiously teetering on the brink of absolute cognizant liberty and utter frenzied confusion. Executed free-hand and free-mind, the red and black snaking contours and the Breton-striped hatching forms a plethora of distorted composite figures and abstract puzzle pieces. The abstruse and hermetically impenetrable maze of organic yet deliberate shapes converges to create this “threatening” state that Dubuffet refers to in 1972. The frenetic density of Théâtre Des Errements III’s chaotic composition is heightened further by the flattened perspectival plane and its cropped, all-over format – a compositional device of Japanese woodblock prints employed by the Impressionist artists such as Monet and Degas, and ultimately embodied the raw and unfettered vision of Art Brut that informed Dubuffet's entire oeuvre. Before the celebrated Hourloupe series, Dubuffet had combined a rejection of all classical notions of perspective with inspiration from various groups of outsiders – the insane, prisoners, children and the primitive – and an almost Fauvist use of colors as the basis for his visual language. 

Bustling with energy, the jagged, impulsive lines that dart around the composition define the enthusiastic heartbeat and joie de vivre of Parisian existence that Dubuffet had witnessed on his return to the French capital after a break of several years in the countryside at Vence. Unlike the familiar, regimented red-blue-white-black combination of Dubuffet’s later Hourloupe works, Théâtre Des Errements III is rendered in a celebratory palette of bright hues, with both a refined simplicity and an unconscious spontaneity that oozes with vitality. The feverish lines and fickle hatching, along with expressive coloring, reiterate the fact that this is one of the ripest examples of Dubuffet’s Hourloupe series. Six years after being painted, in a letter to Arnold Glimcher, Dubuffet refers to his “uninterrupted and resolutely uniform meandering script…[which] will thereby dissolve the categories which our mind habitually employs to decipher…the facts and spectacles of the world. Herewith the circulation of the mind from one object to another, from one category to another will be liberated and its mobility greatly increased.” (the artist in a letter to Arnold Glimcher, 1969) 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 and the essence of Théâtre Des Errements III.