Lot 35
  • 35

JEAN DUBUFFET | Papa Tromblon (Portrait)

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
4,460,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jean Dubuffet
  • Papa Tromblon (Portrait)
  • signed and dated 67; signed, titled, and dated mars 67 on the reverse 
  • vinyl paint on canvas


Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, Basel
Private Collection, Paris
Private Collection, New York
Susan Seidel, Inc., New York
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1996)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet, February - April 1968, n.p., no. 29, illustrated in color 
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Jean Dubuffet: L'Hourloupe, June - August 1970, n.p., no. 54 (text)
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Europa, June - July 1971, n.p., no. 14, illustrated in color on the back cover 
London, Waddington Galleries, Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, Gouaches, Assemblages, Sculpture, Monuments, Praticables, Works on Paper, June - July 1972, p. 20, no. 29, illlustrated 


Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XXII: Cartes, Ustensiles, Lausanne, 1972, p. 136, no. 355, illustrated

Catalogue Note

An enchanting fusion of form and fantasy, the kaleidoscopic silhouette of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) exemplifies the exhilarating vibrancy, vitality, and unbridled creativity that defines the very best of Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated output. Executed in 1967, the present work marks the apex of the artist’s best-known and most enduring series: L’Hourloupe. Inspired by absent-minded telephone doodles in ballpoint pen, this body of work occupied Dubuffet’s artistic output from 1962 to 1974, during which the artist produced some of the most visually captivating and richly imaginative paintings of his career. While many examples from the series depict everyday objects or all-over, jubilant eulogies of writhing forms, others –such as the present work  build upon Dubuffet’s longstanding interest in portraiture to create magical works of figuration. Although already widely celebrated for the ingenuity of his Art Brut style of portraiture, the compulsive geometric patterns and compositional dynamism of his portraits from L’Hourloupe represented a brilliant formal shift in the artist’s pictorial style. Exemplifying the impeccable formal execution which distinguishes this body of work, the surface of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) presents, at first glance, an explosive topography of line, pattern, and form; from within the thrilling melee swirling across the surface of Dubuffet’s canvas, however, the clearly defined silhouette of the titular Papa Tromblon (Portrait) emerges. Fixing the viewer with his baleful, heavy-lidded gaze, he is a figure at once comical and tragic, figural and abstract, familiar and fantastical, serving as perfect mascot for the visually captivating and richly imaginative world of Dubuffet’s L’Hourloupe. Recognized as Dubuffet’s largest and most sustained series, the effervescent fantasy and explosive visual dynamism of the L’Hourloupe paintings represent the creative pinnacle of Dubuffet’s prolific and multifaceted practice. As evoked in the saturated scarlet and blue of the present work, the creative origin of the L’Hourloupe lies in a series of sinuous, simplistic doodles in ballpoint pen, mindlessly produced while the artist spoke on the telephone. In its sensuously undulating outline and polychromatic crosshatching, the silhouette of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) articulates the playful inception of the series as, fueled by a endlessly inventive wealth of creativity, Dubuffet rendered the imaginative forms and figures of his subconscious on the canvas. The fanciful name of the series is, likewise, a product of Dubuffet’s extraordinary imagination, created through the fusion of multiple French words into the sonorously luxuriant term, “L’Hourloupe.” Asked about the series, Dubuffet revealed that the word was “...based upon its sound. In French, these sounds suggest some wonderland or grotesque object or creature, while at the same time they evoke something rumbling and threatening with tragic overtones. Both are implied.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, New York, 1973, p. 35) Similarly, the title of the present work, Papa Tromblon (Portrait), simultaneously invokes meanings while avoiding clear reference; while a “tromblon” is a technical term for a type of antiquated firearm (also kown as a ‘blunderbuss’), the term also invokes the French word “grognon,” or grumpy, seamlessly invoking the doleful gaze of Dubuffet’s subject.

By radically reducing his palette to saturated zones of red and blue, contoured by sinuous black lines against a luminous white ground, Dubuffet further removes his composition from the realm of everyday reality, effectively enveloping the viewer in a mesmerizing web of densely interlocking figures, patterns, and forms. Describing the desired effect of the subject work and other paintings of L’Hourloupe, Dubuffet reflects: "This was a plunge into fantasy, into a phantom parallel universe. My renewed interest in outsider art was no doubt not unconnected with this sudden new development." (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne (and travelling), Jean Dubuffet: Trace of an Adventure, 2003, p. 174) Indeed, although the forms and lines of Dubuffet’s painting are rendered with exacting, almost mechanical precision, the overall effect is one of exhilarating organic chaos. Like biomorphic entities viewed through a microscopic lens, the distinctly patterned forms within the composition shift and combine to generate a figural topography that, like an impossibly intricate configuration of puzzle pieces, resolves to reveal a striking image. Just as quickly, however, the figure of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) before us dissolves, swirling and merging once more into frenetic abstraction.