The eye itself is in constant drift: shifted, swept toward a neighboring form which tends to agglutinate itself into the one before it; weaving an invisible fabric over the alveolus dispersed in the picture…In the canvases articulated on the basis of shop windows, the cells that fit one into the other are completed, but each line seving to delimit one of them is prolonged into another, depends on a neighboring cell, engaging the viewer in a moment of continuous side-slipping.” MAX LOREAU
“My art does not seek to include festivities as a distraction from everyday life, but to reveal that everyday life is a much more interesting celebration than the pseudo-celebrations created to distract from it.” JEAN DUBUFFET
A jubilant fusion of form and motion, Maison Fondée brilliantly exemplifies the visual complexity, vibrancy, and creativity which characterize the very best of Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated oeuvre. Executed in 1961, the present work dates from the brilliant creative inception of the artist’s most illustrious and sought-after series: the vibrant canvases of the Paris Circus. Inspired by the frenetic urban bustle and unbridled joie-de-vivre he witnessed upon his return to Paris after several years spent in the countryside, Dubuffet’s paintings from this limited series are infused with a shimmering vibrancy, boisterous brushwork, and infectious dynamism unrivaled within his output. With a number of the large-scale canvases from the Paris Circus housed in such major international collections as the Tate in London, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, among numerous others, Maison Fondée represents one of the few remaining masterworks from this celebrated series left in private hands. Taking its title from the signs adorning storefronts all around Paris - identifying the date they were founded/established - Maison Fondée stands in as an anonymous cipher for any Paris street, nearly abstract in its universality. Painted in the first, exhilarating year of the Paris Circus cycle, the kaleidoscopic composition expertly captures the sense of liberation that spread throughout the French capital in the wake of World War II; simultaneously, in its remarkable complexity, vitality, and painterly gusto, Maison Fondée articulates the brilliant creative pinnacle of Dubuffet’s iconic and influential artistic practice.
Teeming with euphoric energy, Maison Fondée exemplifies Dubuffet’s dynamic interpretation of cosmopolitan society in the Paris Circus cycle. In the years preceding the present work, the artist, seeking to escape the scarred and battered atmosphere of postwar Paris, transported his life and practice to the countryside of Vence; there, shrouded in the natural beauty of his rural surroundings, Dubuffet explored a dark, rural aesthetic of earthy materials and roughly hewn tactility. Retreating from the larger reality of a world still reeling from worldwide calamity, the artist’s Topographies, Texturologies, and Matériologies of the late 1950s survey the world in geologically minute detail, as though seeking solace in material immediacy. Upon his return to Paris in 1961, however, Dubuffet encountered a shimmering metropolis which bore little resemblance to the one he remembered: gone were the melancholic banality and sobriety that had shrouded the city in the years immediately following the Second World War, replaced by the exuberant optimism and infectious joie-de-vivre that infuses Maison Fondée. Inspired by the bustling boulevards and avenues of the rejuvenated city, Dubuffet embarked upon a brilliant series of swiftly painted impressions of the city that signaled a radical departure from his earlier work. Describing the ineffable ebullience of the early works from the Paris Circus, exemplified by Maison Fondée, scholar Max Loreau remarks: “Jean Dubuffet has shed his ground-worshipper tunic. The period of austerity is over. His ‘matériologue’ side sleeps; make way for the playful and theatrical Janus, the dancer and shouter.” (Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux, Fascicule XIX, Paris-Circus, Paris, 1965, p. 7) Where before he had considered life through a microscopic view, Maison Fondée portrays humanity on a monumental scale, profoundly embodying the constant motion of a thriving social and cultural epicenter. Painted in kaleidoscopic reds, blues, and yellows, the streams of vehicles and pedestrians appear to swell and sway, tracing their voyage through modern life with tangible vitality.
The electrifying vibrancy, variegated surface, and innovative pictorial perspective of Maison Fondée, among other key works from the first year of the Paris Circus, marked a formal breakthrough for Dubuffet. The constant sensory barrage of the artist’s urban environment is articulated in his heightened use of color: abandoning the nuanced earth tones of his 1950s canvases, Dubuffet portrays the crowded storefronts and avenues of Paris in luminous, electrifying primaries. The sheer density of life in Maison Fondée is manifested by thickly impastoed and agitated brushwork, the Parisian street scene brought to life by an incredibly variegated surface that jostles the viewer from point to point without pause. The experience of viewing the Paris Circus is eloquently articulated by Loreau: “The eye itself is in constant drift: shifted, swept toward a neighboring form which tends to agglutinate itself into the one before it; weaving an invisible fabric over the alveolus dispersed in the picture…In the canvases articulated on the basis of shop windows, the cells that fit one into the other are completed, but each line serving to delimit one of them is prolonged into another, depends on a neighboring cell, engaging the viewer in a moment of continuous side-slipping.” (Max Loreau quoted in Ibid., p. 151) The inscriptions of the present work, emblazoned upon the vibrant storefronts in Dubuffet’s distinctive, child-like scrawl, both draw upon and satirize the street signs and advertisements familiar to an urban setting, infusing the painting with an enchanting specificity. From the window of the dentiste, a figure peers out to meet the viewer’s eye, while below, vibrantly colored cars trundle past in endless streams. The exactitude of the street-level view is counterbalanced, however, by the radical perspectival flattening Dubuffet employs to present a panorama of the city, perfectly distilling the chaos of the scene into the teeming and animated canvas of Maison Fondée. Comparing his 1961 Paris Circus works to his previous, more impersonal output, Dubuffet said that, "The principle thing about [my paintings of this year] is that they are in complete contrast to those of the Texturology and Materiology series that I did previously. They are in every way the opposite… In reaction against this absenteeist tendency my paintings of this year put into play in all respects a very different intervention. The presence in them of the painter now is constant, even exaggerated. They are full of personages, and this time their role is played with spirit.'' (Jean Dubuffet, "Statement on Paintings of 1961’’ cited in Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York, 1962, p. 165)
In the enchanting macrocosm of Maison Fondée, Dubuffet offers a vision of a city enthralled with the unbounded joy of daily living. In a manner reminiscent of the nineteenth century Parisian flâneur, immortalized in the words of Charles Baudelaire and the canvases of Gustave Caillebotte, Dubuffet painted the city as experienced by those who lived out the trials and triumphs of their lives within its streets. Remarking upon the series, the artist explains: “My art does not seek to include festivities as a distraction from everyday life, but to reveal that everyday life is a much more interesting celebration than the pseudo-celebrations created to distract from it.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Jean Dubuffet, 2001) Yet even as he draws upon intimately acquired details of Parisian streets, the metropolis of the Paris Circus is transformed into a city of Dubuffet’s own imaginative creation as, with electrifying vibrancy, reality gives way to an altogether more fantastical and vibrant existence. Prefiguring the fanciful wonderland of L’Hourloupe, the vast multimedia universe that would occupy the artist’s output between 1962 and 1974, Maison Fondée presents a spectacular hyper-reality that, in its heightened sensory deluge of color, sound, light, and motion, perfectly encapsulates the experience of a city reborn. Describing his intent, Dubuffet explains: “My desire is to make the site evoked by the picture something phantasmagoric, and that can be achieved only by jumbling together more or less veristic elements with interventions of arbitrary character aiming at unreality. I want my street to be crazy, my broad avenues, shops and buildings to join in a crazy dance, and that is why I deform and denature their contours and colors, though always running up against the difficulty that if all the elements one after the other were too outrageously deformed and denatured, if in the end nothing remained with at least something of its true look, I would have made the site disappear that I was trying to suggest, that I wished to transform.” (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 148)
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