Bernard Buffet's studio as it is depicted in this painting in 1956 appears to be very different from Pierre Bergé's description of it as he remembers: "It was extremely untidy! The studio was very dirty because he never wanted it cleaned. He did not even want anyone to enter. He did not work with a palette but mixed his colours directly on a table cluttered with paint tubes, rags and bottles. [...] He never used an easel." (Pierre Bergé, in Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet Les années 1950 Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, pp. 19-20).
Rather than portraying a faithful reproduction of his studio, the painter depicts it as an allegory of the creative process, seeking to endow the work with a certain autonomy in terms of reality: "The mortification Buffet inflicts on the spectator, he inflicts upon himself through the very gesture of painting. Refusing the comfort of the easel, he paints on a canvas nailed to the wall. He feels the need to hit the wall, like a boxer confronting his hard-muscled adversary. He is a wrestler. In this wall he opens large windows which open in turn onto a wall." (Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet Les années 1950 Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, p.76)
More than just a work tool, the easel placed at the centre of the painting finds its justification in this scene as a traditional attribute of the painter. L'Atelier thus fits into a tradition of studio paintings and more widely into that of genre painting, whether still-life, portrait and self-portrait, interior views or even great historical painting. In this it reveals the artist's desire to anchor his work in the continuation of the old great masters he so admired, such as Gros, David, Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix, Chassériau or Courbet.
A place for the invention and fabrication of art, the studio space attracts all kinds of curiosities. It is increasingly represented as a sanctuary in the Renaissance. Highly symbolic, the studio view invites the spectator to enter into the intimacy of the almost sacred theatre of the miracle of creation. Often conceived of as an extension of the self-portrait genre, from Vermeer's The Art of Painting to the many representations of the painter and his model in Picasso's studio, and Courbet's manifesto painting L'Atelier du peintre, the artist often represents himself at the centre of the painting, surrounded by his models and the sources of his inspiration. Yet Bernard Buffet's painting shows neither model nor painter. A theatrical scene deserted by its principal inhabitant, the painting becomes a purely geometrical construction. The pictorial space is depicted as a sparsely furnished box, built from a network of deep, sharp black lines, lit by a dim light which illuminates the palette of delicate greys, yellows and pinks. "A large skylight divided into rectangular panels, the long skeletons of easels, frames placed on the floor, the wooden floor: each element of the "décor" or the furniture is built of vertical or horizontal lines which divide the painting entirely into squares." (Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet Les années 1950 Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, p. 81).
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