Grace and Philip Sandblom, Lund (acquired from the above in 1960)
Sotheby’s, London, 28 February 2008, Lot 126 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above sale)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009
In 1955, Dubuffet left Paris for a house in the town of Vence. Deeply affected by the horrific trauma and ravages of war, the artist turned his back on urban life in favour of rediscovering contact with nature. Motivated by the environment, Dubuffet’s paintings from this period evoke textures reminiscent of naturally occurring phenomena found in the soil and topography of the land. Béret Rose embodies Dubuffet’s enduring preoccupation with the natural world and the relationship between figure and ground, as articulated by the integration of the painting's full-length subject within his rural environment. By taking on this pastoral dialogue Dubuffet could not help but hark back to the nineteenth-century Realism of Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet – another artist who was well represented in the Sandblom Collection. Following the fall of the French monarchy, these artists depicted the working classes in an effort to present a truthful and objective view of contemporary life at a time of democratic reform. Rejecting idealised classicism in favour of elevating everyday work into the realm of high art, Realism coincided with the utopian manifestos of Karl Marx and the ideal of a proletarian uprising. For Dubuffet however, an artist who witnessed two modern world wars, his return to nature and the land almost acts as an inversion of these nineteenth-century political motivations. Rather than a reflection of unadorned contemporaneity, the countryside instead operates as a safe-haven, a site of fantasy and escape from the reality of post-war urban life. Dubuffet's beret-wearing character embodies a naive spirit, seemingly unfettered and unaffected by the distractions of modern existence. Nonetheless Dubuffet's work of this time is far from anachronistic; his innovative use and utter recapitulation of the traditional canon of oil on canvas is indelibly modern, harboring something of the fragmentary quality of its socio-political moment.
By cutting up and using fragments of painted canvas and applying them onto a canvas ground, Dubuffet negated the need for pencil drawing and allowed the scissors to dictate the composition, often solely by intuition. In Béret Rose, the canvas collage gives the effect of a stained glass mosaic in its variegated tessellation, while the mineral palette embodies Dubuffet’s fascination with the natural world. The rectangular pieces of speckled and pebbled canvas are arranged like puzzle pieces, emulating the kaleidoscopic surface of the landscape by layering and accumulation. Dubuffet’s experimentation with assemblage began in the summer of 1953, when, following a trip to the Savoie with Pierre Bettencourt, the artist began to produce small collages from butterfly wings. The artist continued his interest in non-traditional art materials the subsequent year, using raw coal and sponges to make a small group of figurative sculptures. Dubuffet’s methods of chance and spontaneity reached its climax in the years of 1955 and 1956, when the artist began preparing lengths of canvas with dense patterns of stains, imprints, and smears. After cutting these canvases up into an inventory of random shapes and sizes, Dubuffet would assemble various pieces into landscapes and figures. In describing his attachment to assemblage Dubuffet explained: “I can affirm that that technique, for anyone willing to consider it as at least a factor in improvisation and experimentation, as a means of sparking off the imagination, as a gymnastic exercise in shaking off handed-down conventions and prejudices that inhibit one, as an instigation to invention in all domains (subjects, composition drawing, colouring)… is in all events extremely stimulating and fertile… Moreover, this new technique of assemblage gave me, as soon as I started on it, the impression of lending itself perfectly to treating the subjects that had been so much in my mind… the roadbed, the grasses and little plants pushing through along the sides...” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 12). Indeed, it was Dubuffet himself who coined the highly influential term ‘assemblage’ which was then used to describe the iconic work of Robert Rauschenberg in New York and Edward Kienholz in California.
Dubuffet constantly hunted for the rich, pictorially inventive effects afforded by chance juxtapositions of technique. As curator Raphaël Bouvier explains of the Tableaux d'assemblages: “The anthropomorphic structure of the landscape and earth… may be read as an allusion to the myth according to which land and the landscape were created by the dismemberment of a monster’s body. In dissecting nature, the artist reveals not only an anatomical and geological perception of landscape, but also a mythological view of its essence. An underlying search for the archaic and the primeval…” (Raphaël Bouvier cited in: Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, 2016, p. 17). The creative destruction of Dubuffet's assemblage method became a founding principle of his oeuvre, and as such Béret Rose testifies his pioneering use of materials and innovative recapitulation of revered art historical genres.
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