"Jean Cocteau asserted that a painter always painted his own portrait, even with a landscape or a still-lfe. This is particularly true of Buffet. He resembles his paintings. The hanging chickens are him […]."
From early on in his career, Bernard Buffet sought to confront the great genres of painting. The still-life, a genre abandoned since the 19th century but rehabilitated by Cézanne and by Cubism, became one of his preferred subjects. A fine-art student and a regular visitor of the Louvre, the young artist's first works follow in the great tradition of figurative painting and evoke in particular the theme of hunting trophies, typical of 18th century art. The close-up perspective and the motif of dead, hanging birds recall Jean-Baptiste Oudry's painting Canard Blanc.
If the subject, the clarity of composition and its monochromatic palette are patent, nothing is shown of Bernard Buffet's pronounced taste in his youth for natural science, nor Oudry's precise rendering of weight, volume and matter. Bernard Buffet's chickens seem to float on the canvas, tied up, stiff and scrawny to the extreme, a quality also evident in the artist's nudes. Marked by the Occupation and by the post-war context, Bernard Buffet's painting is ash colored, in replica of an austere, disenchanted vision of the world.
The style is harsh, the lines dry and incisive, the palette reduced to a brutal contrast between light and dark tones. Bernard Buffet reveals here already, at the end of the 1940s, a very personal pictorial language, identifiable as his alone. Simplification is extreme in every way. Few objects are represented, a table, three birds and a few hooks suffice, arranged with rigor and objectivity, refusing all illusion of depth which is only hinted at in the slight tilt of the table. There are no excessive curves, the geometrical logic is almost freed from any representation, imposing a squared grid in the background. If this obsessive grid is the justification of painting itself as an echo of Piet Mondrian's compositions, a pioneer of Russian abstraction, it appears throughout Bernard Buffet's works, resolutely attached to figuration. With Les Poulets in 1948, the artist's ambition and talent were great, as he sought to set his painting against frivolity and carefreeness by enveloping it an eloquent silence.
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