Bernard Buffet's Art World Resurgence

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In 1955, as many as 100 critics chose Bernard Buffet (1928–1999) as the most impressive young painter in the world. His art made him a millionaire by age 28, and even Picasso regarded him as a competitor. But as French critics began taking his portraits of clowns and animals less seriously, Buffet's star status faded. More than half a century later, he is ripe for reappraisal. On 14 September, Sotheby’s Hong Kong debuts Bernard Buffet: Infinite Jester, a selling exhibition of fourteen oils and works on paper dating from the 1950s to the late 1990s. He is also the subject of exhibitions this autumn at the Musée d'art Moderne and the Musée de Montmartre in Paris, and his remarkable life and whirlwind career are chronicled in a new biography, Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist (Preface), by Sotheby's magazine contributor Nicholas Foulkes. To view highlights from Sotheby's exhibition, click ahead.  –Stephanie Sporn

Bernard Buffet: Infinite Jester
14–24 September | Hong Kong

Bernard Buffet's Art World Resurgence

  • Bernard Buffet, Hibou, 1963.
    Buffet’s many series of birds are among the most beloved of his career, including his monumental images of Les Oiseaux, paintings that incorporated both avian and nude female figures. His owls are among his most commercial pictures and are reminiscent of the ceramics and drawings of the same subject by Pablo Picasso.



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  • Bernard Buffet, Le Coq Rouge, 1959.
    This large-scale image of a red rooster is directly related to the monumental paintings of birds and women he painted in his studio at Château l’Arc in 1959. Interestingly, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese zodiac.



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  • Bernard Buffet, La Mort 8, 1999.
    La Mort 8 is among Buffet’s very last major compositions. The work references his deep appreciation of the Old Masters as well as his many images of birds, and it also prefigures the artist’s own death. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease and finding it increasingly difficult to paint, Buffet commit suicide shortly after completing his La Mort series.



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  • Bernard Buffet, La Tour Eiffel et Les Liliums , 1988.
    Images of the Eiffel Tower are arguably the most commercial of Buffet’s Parisian scenes. This monumental example further incorporates a vibrant still life at right and a boat traversing the Seine at lower left; these floral and maritime motifs are also central to many of the artist’s most popular works, making this painting a powerful tour de force of Buffet archetypes.



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  • Bernard Buffet, Nature Morte au Compotier et Anemones , 1985.
    Buffet may be considered a proto-Pop artist; his iconic images, branded with his uniquely stylized signature, were found seemingly everywhere throughout France in the mid-1900s. His still life pictures became increasingly more vibrant as his career progressed, and indeed the flowers at right in Nature morte au compotier et anemones echo Andy Warhol’s floral silkscreens from the mid-1960s.



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  • Bernard Buffet, Tête de Femme, 1955.
    It has been said that Buffet depicted his own image in the face of every portrait he created, whether male or female. Such “self-portraiture” was a major motif for the artist early in his career, particularly in the late 1940s and through the 1950s.



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