Lot 44
  • 44

BERNARD BUFFET | Couple nu assis, 1956

80,000 - 120,000 EUR
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  • Bernard Buffet
  • Couple nu assis, 1956
  • huile sur toile
  • 199,9 x 160 cm; 78 3/4 x 63 in.
signed Bernard Buffet and dated 56 upper centre; oil on canvas


Pierre Bergé, Paris (gift from the artist)


Paris, Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint-Laurent
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. 16, illustrated p. 33


The canvas is not lined. Examination under UV light reveals a small dot of retouching to the lady's proper right feet and a few tiny dots of retouching, associated with horizontal stretcher mark, towards the lady's proper right knee. There are dots and lines of retouching towards the lower right corner and a small dot of retouching, with an associated patch of canvas, to the lower right corner. There are two small dots of paint losses to right part of the upper edge and a few smaller dots of paint losses, associated with frame rubbing, along the extreme edges. There are a few thin lines of stable craquelure in places, most predominately towards the man. There are some faint stretcher marks running horizontally across the composition. There are a few scattered tiny fly spots. This work is in overall 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.
The anonymous portrait of two human beings, as naked as they are stereotypically vulgar, (in the Latin sense of the term), Couple nu assis is a major work. Enshrouded in intense silence by the evident lack of communication between the man and the woman facing each other, this painting is a manifesto of modernity in itself alone.

Although comparable in size to an altarpiece (Bernard Buffet exhibited the Passion of Christ in 1951) or an historical painting, Couple nu assis is devoid of all religiosity and all narrative. This absence of pretext endows the work with an absolute quality. Bernard Buffet was very familiar with Primitive Dutch painting, and in particular Grünewald’s exaggerated realism, as well as Cranach. The designation of values or names (Adam and Eve) to the protagonists of a scene more or less deprived of action, (the man’s gesture is in vain) would have brought some context; although the confrontation should take place in a garden rather than on a wooden floor. The background adds to the lack of décor. The wall is neither hot nor cold. It is desperately naked. The spectator must look elsewhere or invent another myth in order to understand what is going on.  At the same time, Giacometti and Balthus were creating closed spaces from converging lines. The primordial or primitive aspect of Bernard Buffet’s man and woman recall Richier who, almost at the same time, painted L’Ouragane (1947-1948) and L’Orage (1948-1949). In Couple nu assis, the man’s outstretched arm, positioned in line with the artist’s demiurge signature, and the woman’s arm folded against her chest, both annihilate through their contradictory movements, all attempt at explanation. There is no narrative, no dialogue.

The reversal of traditional representations of the body in art means that a work as solemn and disconcerting as Couple nu assis establishes the modernity of a painting without discourse, without dialogue. It lies far from the canons and equilibrium of the antique figure, from the grace and golden numbers of the Renaissance. The body is depicted without any idealization, in such a crude state as to deny its humanity. The woman has no sensuality; the man lacks any muscle structure. The style is mannerist in its asceticism (Bernard Buffet must have looked at Greco). They are both in uncomfortable positions, sitting on stiff chairs whose rudimentary aspect recalls Van Gogh’s chair (Bernard Buffet assiduously read Van Gogh’s correspondence with Théo). This total, unreserved nudity can be found in the over realistic flesh of Lucien Freud’s painted figures. But if Freud’s bodies provoke both revulsion and sometimes attraction, Bernard Buffet’s bodies provoke unease. Freud confirmed this moreover: "My conception of the portrait comes from my deception in front of the portraits that resembled people, but which were not like them […]. For me, the painting is the person". Yet with Bernard Buffet, (whose mastery of portraiture was shown the same year as Couple nu assis in the group exhibition at the Palais Galliera La Réhabilitation du portrait in 1956), the person disappears behind the painting itself. The mixing of genres, as far as the transgression of sexes, adds an almost totalitarian aspect to the work, at least to its autonomy. Here the ambiguity increases the power.