Lot 4
  • 4

JEAN DUBUFFET | L'Amphibologique

700,000 - 900,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jean Dubuffet
  • L'Amphibologique
  • signed and dated 65; signed, titled and dated octobre 65 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 100 by 81 cm. 39 3/8 by 31 7/8 in.


Galerie Beyeler, Basel and Jeanne Bucher, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1967)
Galerie Burén, Stockholm 
Private Collection, Stockholm
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Stockholm, Galerie Burén, Jean Dubuffet: L’Hourloupe, October - November 1967, n.p., no. 13, illustrated


Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fasc. XXI: L’Hourloupe II, Lausanne 1968, p. 103, no. 173, illustrated

Catalogue Note

L’Amphibologique forms an enigmatic part of Jean Dubuffet’s paradigm-shifting L'Hourloupe series. Conceived in the summer of 1962 when, while speaking on the phone, Dubuffet produced a drawing in red and blue ball-point pen on paper with his idle hand, the series arguably instantiates the Art Brut pioneer’s most recognised and celebrated visual dialect. While some members of the series, such as Le Train des Vacants (1965), are a logical extension of the preceding Paris Circus (1961-62), comprising all-over, jubilant eulogies to the street festival and urban dance, others such as the present work build upon Dubuffet’s longstanding interest in portraiture to create magical works of figuration. Just as the human figures in the Paris Circus are gradually enveloped by unstoppable swathes of colour, the figure of L’Amphibologique has become one with these nebulous milieux, creating a darkened vacuum where there once was a background. A clear return to human subject-matter following his Matériologies, these portraits are preemptive of the three-dimensional works that Dubuffet would go on to create in the L’Hourloupe style. Utensils, architectural models and characters cloaked in this unmistakable design were metamorphosed into the Coucou Bazar: a mixed-media tableau vivant and interactive spectacle in which actors in full-body costumes combined painting, sculpture, theatre and dance – a work that was first performed in New York in May 1973 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. This animated painting serves as the conceptual apotheosis of the L’Hourloupe series, which came to a close only one year later. In reducing his palette to white, black, red and blue, Dubuffet’s L’Hourloupe distilled the defining quality of his oeuvre: unanalysable beauty realised with bewilderingly simple materials. With a sense of perpetual evolution, of mutual communication, hundreds of visual motifs combine in L’Amphibologique to evoke at once the wanderings of the unconscious and a perspective free from ‘civilising’ and falsifying gestalts. Just as the often deliberately restricted palettes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning imbued their works with an unrivalled formal power, the bewitching, teeming coral reef we see within the figure of L’Amphibologique owes much to Dubuffet’s deft manipulation of his aptly-chosen materials. Not only did Dubuffet achieve staggeringly varied chromatic nuances with his media, but by using such a restricted set of materials, Dubuffet was in the optimal position from which to explore the forms generated by the unconscious: a mainstay in his work and one of the driving interests of his aesthetic. 

Channeling the stranger, the outcast and the outsider, L’Amphibologique is a perfect instantiation of Dubuffet’s art. The neologism ‘hourloupe’ recalls the French verbs ‘hurler’ and ‘hululer’ meaning to roar and to hoot respectively as well as ‘loup’, the French noun for ‘wolf’. It is, however, precisely the sound of the word that appeals most deeply to the artist: “this ‘Hourloupe’ term is a noun invented on account of its phonetics. In French, it evokes a character who’s at once somewhat enchanting and grotesque; a kind of tragic, growling, lumbering figure” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Daniel Abadie, ‘La création du monde’, in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Centre Pompidou, Jean Dubuffet, 2001, p. 244; translation original). The present work’s title translates as ‘The Amphibolous’, which is the quality sentences or clauses have when grammatically ambiguous. Such a feature is often the comedic pivot of jokes – take, for instance, Groucho Marx’s famous amphiboly in Animal Crackers (1930): “one morning, I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I’ll never know.” The title of both work and series, then, confer to the figure in L’Amphibologique a kind of mysticism, a knowing clownishness; an alluring and thrilling position on the fringes of conventional society. The figure is a hooting, roaring, captivating entity; its essence inextricable from its very ambiguity.