Details & Cataloguing

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Jean Dubuffet
1901 - 1985
signed with the artist's initials and dated 81
acrylic on paper laid down on canvas
50 by 67 cm. 19 5/8 by 26 3/8 in.
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Waddington Galleries, London
Private Collection, Europe
Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1988, Lot 687
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XXXIV: Psycho-sites, Paris 1984, p. 107, no. 397, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1981, Site avec 3 Personages perfectly encapsulates the culmination of Jean Dubuffet’s artistic beliefs. Rather than a realistic, pure representation of the scenery, the present work is the embodiment of the setting itself. Three figures, realised in Dubuffet’s now-iconic and recognisable style, have been placed in seeming levitation against a lavishly coloured background. The fields of vibrant colours, which Dubuffet called “Sites”, weren’t created with a particular place in mind, but rather referred to the artist’s conceptual abstraction of a place, and provided the dynamic backdrop for all the works of this series.

Dubuffet had started the Sites – or Psycho – Sites as they would be later known – earlier that year, and worked on this series until 1982, exploring the possibilities of different compositions, and slowly becoming more daring in his colour and personnage combinations. Executed in November of that year, the present work displays the confidence of an artist that has mastered the techniques he is laboriously and quasi-obsessively pursuing. Indeed, already in 1981 the Psycho-Sites proved to be an extremely well-received body of work, and were prestigiously shown at the exhibition Site aux Figurines, Psycho-Sites at the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Teeming with euphoric energy Site avec 3 Personages exemplifies Dubuffet’s unique and dynamic interpretation of cosmopolitan society. After the Second World War, the artist had sought to escape the scarred and battered atmosphere of a wounded Paris by transporting his life and practice to the quiet and welcoming French countryside. Settling in Vence, Dubuffet was inspired by his natural surroundings, imbuing his canvases with a rural aesthetic and using materials such as sand and butterfly wings to create works that surveyed the world in geologically minute detail. 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. The following decades were marked by this vibrating energy that not only sparked a flurry of artistic production, but also instilled the artist’s work with the vigorous energy that is so synonymous with his name.

Indeed, in Site avec 3 Personages Dubuffet perfectly portrays the atmosphere of the scene it depicts with dynamic brushstrokes and pure colour applied with lush, fast-moving strokes. Spontaneous movement is captured, and the artist’s hand is rendered visible by the lively composition. Energetic lines are scrawled harmoniously across the picture plane, a genial approach to representation that draws the viewer into the surface, trying to decipher the contours of each shape and creating a mental landscape or reality. For the artist, the Sites were a far better way to represent reality than a rigorously rendered, literal depiction of it. As he explained: "[The Sites] heighten the evocative power of the place portrayed… the presence of a human figure gives the place the necessary existence and vitality without which it might remain to the observer merely a network of incomprehensible planes and lines. The figures have the function of a catalyst that triggers the imagination" (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne (and travelling), Jean Dubuffet, 2003-04, p. 252).

Contemporary Art Day Auction