Lot 42
  • 42

BERNARD BUFFET | Nature morte à la raie, 1956

80,000 - 120,000 EUR
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  • Bernard Buffet
  • Nature morte à la raie, 1956
  • 195,1 x 96,6 cm; 76 7/8 x 38 in.
signed Bernard Buffet and dated 56 upper left; dedicated A Pierre Bergé, signed Bernard Buffet, situated "MANINES" and dated Juin 56 on the reverse; oil on canvas


Pierre Bergé, Paris (gift from the artist)


Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cent tableaux de 1944 à 1958 par Bernard Buffet, 1958, no. 99
Paris, Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint-Laurent
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Rétrospective Bernard Buffet, 2016-17, illustrated in the catalogue p. 113
Saint-Rémy de Provence, Musée Estrine, Bernard Buffet, la collection Pierre Bergé, 2018


Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet, Les années 1950, Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, no. 84, illustrated p. 141


The canvas is not lined. Examination under UV light reveals a few tiny dots of possible retouching to the centre of the upper part of the plate. There are a few thin lines of craquelure in places, most predominately in the black pigment, and some minor paint shrinkage, notably to the upper part of the ray. There is some minor frame rubbing along the extreme edges and a small inward concave bent to the left part of the upper edge. Impasto is rich and well preserved. This work is in overall very good condition.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Galerie Maurice Garnier. "A still-life by Buffet is only half still and ready to bite. In his hands of a thin executioner dressed in red, domestic utensils become instruments of torture capable of making their victims talk, whatever the cost of silence, should it take the appearance of a tablecloth, a chair, a comb, a ray fish or a 'tête de veau'."

Jean Cocteau, Poésie Critique, 1959.

Bernard Buffet produced his first still-lifes during his time at the National School of Fine Arts, inspired by the realist style of Gustave Courbet and of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin whose paintings he studied at the Louvre as soon as it reopened in 1946. Nature morte à la raie, painted by Bernard Buffet in 1956, echoes the different versions of the same subject by Chardin and by Soutine. Bernard Buffet appropriated these works and rebuilt them whilst maintaining a dialogue with the artists he considered to be his principal masters. The monstrous ray fish with its repulsive smile was one of Buffet's favorite fishes already present in his work for over ten years when he painted this picture.

Early in his career, the artist did indeed keep a rotting ray fish in his apartment, which recalls Soutine and his beef carcass, before doing without the model. "The object is disgusting, but it is the fish's flesh, it is its skin, it is its blood; the very aspect of the thing would not affect us any differently" wrote Diderot on Chardin's La Raie in his Salon of 1763.

With Bernard Buffet's spatial construction, Nature morte à la raie becomes a large diamond-shaped rhombus. The artist's use of geometric lines and graphic structure divide the composition into a succession of rectangular planes. The unbroken black contour becomes increasingly thicker, enveloping and imprisoning form. As with most of the other still-lifes, the rectangular surface of the table is parallel to the edge of the painting. Bernard Buffet thus rejects all movement that could displace the lines. Objects on the table are rare, as is the custom in his paintings of this subject. The artist sought a pure space: the table bears only a tablecloth, a glass, a bottle, a knife and an immaculately white dish. The oval shape of the dish cuts into the diagonal line of the cloth, in almost perfect symmetry. Form predominates. The triangles of the table and the cloth, the circles of the dish, the rhombus of the ray fish and the two cylinders of the bottle and glass slot into the square tiles of the wall. The knife with its handle on the table, pointing into the plate, punctuates the geometric space.

The hollow, milky dish, placed in the lower middle of the canvas is in perfect symmetry with the ray hovering above it, giving the impression of a well from which the fish has sprung, its head pointing upwards, its rectilinear tail leaving the plate. The very format of the painting accentuates this ascension.

Chardin's bruised and bloody, viscous and translucent victim ray fish is no longer present. Buffet's ray fish is powerful, milk-white and hard. Its threatening grin defies our gaze. The red and pink tones highlight its anger. A still-life that is still alive. But the glass, bottle and knife bring us back to the reality of the carcass, in perfect balance.