Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Jean Dubuffet
1901 - 1985
signed and dated 51; signed, titled and dated Août 51 on the reverse
oil and mixed media on panel
54 by 65 cm. 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 in.
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Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Illinois
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New Orleans
Galerie K, Paris
Acquired from the above by the late owner


New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Landscaped Tables, Landscapes of the Mind, Stones of Philosophy: Exhibition of Paintings Executed in 1950 and 1951 by Jean Dubuffet, February - March 1952, n.p., no. 17, listed
Paris, Cercle Volney, Jean Dubuffet, 1954, no. 75
New York, Richard Feigen Gallery, Dubuffet and the Anticulture, November 1969 - January 1970
New Orleans, Museum of Fine Art, New Orleans Collects, November 1971 - January 1972
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Jean Dubuffet: Ein Leben im Laufschritt, June - September 2009, p. 64, no. 66, illustrated


Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule VII: Tables paysagées, paysages du mental, pierres philosophiques, Paris 1979, p. 48, no. 67, illustrated
Michael Peppiatt, Jean-Michel Basquiat - Gaston Chaissac - Jean Dubuffet - Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Paris 2003, p. 31, no. 14, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1951, Fête de nuit (festival of the night) is part of a celebrated series of landscape paintings created following Jean Dubuffet’s numerous trips to North African deserts between 1949 and 1950. Central to Dubuffet’s oeuvre, Fête de nuit synthesises topographical sites with fictitious scenes he called 'landscapes of the mind.' The sky and earth fuse into an all-encompassing whole, where space and time become indiscernible, leaving much to the imagination. From closer appreciation, evocations of simplified and anonymous figurative details loom out of the earthy background, perhaps evoking soil or an archaeological site. Dubuffet was fascinated by the threshold between reality and fantasy and wrote, “the very point… between the domain of evocations and that of objects, posing the greatest threat of slipping from one to the other, that point produces in me uneasiness and discomfort but at the same time it exerts a fascination over me to the point of not knowing if I fear it or if I seek it out and solicit it” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, 1973, p. 29).

Fête de nuit characterises Dubuffet’s radical experimentation and engagement with new materials and techniques through the use of heavy impasto, accentuated by the shiny varnish finish. Subverting the idea that traditional materials inspired conventional imagery, Dubuffet transformed the medium by thickening oil paint with sand, glue, gravel or tar, defying its appearance and adding a rich, textural dimension. As the artist reflected, “my connection with the material I use is like the bond of the dancer with his partner, the rider with his horse, the fortune teller with her cards. One can now understand how I feel in coming upon a new kind of coating, and with what eagerness I feel to try it out” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Landscaped tables, Landscapes of the mind, Stones of the Philosophy, 1952, n.p.).

The application of thick matter with spasmodic splashes and scratching, coupled with the dense and hardened impasto, evoke fossilised elements, which engulf the canvas and offer unexpected relief. As Dubuffet reminisced about his works of this period: “my mortar, applied with large dull putty knives, enabled me to provoke systems of reliefs in objects…and lent itself, at the same time, to very realistic effects of rugged and stony terrains. I enjoyed the idea that a single medium should have this double (ambiguous) power: to accentuate the actual and familiar characteristics of certain elements (notably in figurations of ground and soils), and yet to precipitate other elements into a world of fantasmagoric irreality, endowing them with an unknown life, borrowed from other worlds than ours – or the same kind of life, but captured on some of its other levels” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Ibid., n.p.).

Through its innovative treatment of materials and texture, the present work perfectly illustrates Dubuffet’s experimental and eclectic oeuvre and the title Fête de Nuit makes reference to this blurred distinction between reality and the surreal.

Contemporary Art Day Auction