The Unique Perspective of Expressionist Painter Bernard Buffet

Bernard Buffet
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From 29-30 October, Sotheby's Paris will bring to auction the vast collection of Pierre Bergé. An aesthete and astute businessman, with a powerful presence in politics and the media, Bergé was also a renowned philanthropist, lover of literature and one of the most important collectors of his time. He amassed, over more than fifty years, an eclectic collection encompassing everything from Antiquity to Modern art. Central to the collection are a dozen paintings by Bernard Buffet which witness the intense shared history of both men in the 1950s. Of exceptional quality, the works mark a watershed period in Buffet’s style and painting. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

The Unique Perspective of Expressionist Painter Bernard Buffet

  • Bernard Buffet, Autoportrait sur fond noir, 1956
    Estimate €100,000–150,000
    Bernard Buffet drew upon the great figures of the history of painting, his artistic culture was vast with many references to the old masters. Here the painter depicts himself here at the age of 28, at work, with his sleeves rolled up. The position of his left hand placed next to his heart certainly refers to Durer’s famous self-portrait, a painter Bernard Buffet held in great esteem.
  • Bernard Buffet, Vanité, 1955
    Estimate €40,000–60,000
    Bernard Buffet’s deep knowledge of the history of painting – he often studied at the Louvre – is reflected in his still-lifes and even more so in his Vanités, often inspired by 17th century models. In Vanité, painted in 1955, all the key iconographical elements of the genre are present: the skull placed on the table next to a candle and encircled by rosary beads; the yellow background represents the sun and life, the light of Provence that was so dear to the artist, but also passing time, symbolised by the burning candle. The skull and the rosary beads are a reminder of death but also the religious intercession of hope of the hereafter.
  • Bernard Buffet, Boeuf écorché, 1954
    Estimate €200,000–400,000
    “This Boeuf écorché is extraordinary! It is a real great piece of painting, a challenge that he threw himself and that he has perfectly succeeded at. He obviously thought of Rembrandt, he obviously thought of Soutine, one of the rare artists of his time for whom he had esteem...Bernard always told the story of the beef carcass Soutine kept for eight days in his studio. The neighbours were alarmed by the smell. There is evidently a precision in Buffet's painting that does not exist with Soutine.”

    Pierre Bergé (In Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet, Les Années 1950, Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, pp. 24-25)
  • Bernard Buffet, L’Atelier, 1956
    Estimate €80,000–120,000
    Bernard Buffet's studio as it is depicted in this painting in 1956 appears to be very different from Pierre Bergé's description of it as he remembers: "It was extremely untidy! The studio was very dirty because he never wanted it cleaned. He did not even want anyone to enter. He did not work with a palette but mixed his colours directly on a table cluttered with paint tubes, rags and bottles. [...] He never used an easel." (Pierre Bergé, in Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet Les Années 1950 Entretien avec Pierre Bergé, Paris, 2016, pp. 19-20).
  • Bernard Buffet, Les Poulets, 1948
    Estimate €50,000–70,000
    From early on in his career, Bernard Buffet sought to confront the great genres of painting. The still life, a genre abandoned since the 19th century but rehabilitated by Cézanne and by Cubism, became one of his preferred subjects. Bernard Buffet's chickens seem to float on the canvas, tied up, stiff and scrawny to the extreme, a quality also evident in the artist's nudes. Marked by the Occupation and by the post-war context, Bernard Buffet's painting is ash colored, in replica of an austere, disenchanted vision of the world.
  • Bernard Buffet, Nature morte à la raie, 1956
    Estimate €80,000–120,000
    Bernard Buffet produced his first still-lifes during his time at the National School of Fine Arts, inspired by the realist style of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Nature morte à la raie, painted by Bernard Buffet in 1956, echoes the different versions of the same subject by Chardin and by Soutine. Bernard Buffet appropriated these works and rebuilt them whilst maintaining a dialogue with the artists he considered to be his principal masters. With Bernard Buffet's spatial construction, Nature morte à la raie becomes a large diamond-shaped rhombus. The artist's use of geometric lines and graphic structure divide the composition into a succession of rectangular planes. The unbroken black contour becomes increasingly thicker, enveloping and imprisoning form. Objects on the table are rare, as is the custom in his paintings of this subject. Buffet's ray fish is powerful, milk-white and hard. Its threatening grin defies our gaze. The red and pink tones highlight its anger. A still-life that is still alive. But the glass, bottle and knife bring us back to the reality of the carcass, in perfect balance.
  • Bernard Buffet, Nature morte à la sole, 1952
    Estimate €100,000–150,000
    Bernard Buffet set up his studio and table in the sheep barn at Nanse, not far from Manosque and his friend Giono. This is no abundant meal, but a frugal repast. A few objects left over from long ago – a candle, a thistle, a jug, a few scattered fruits, a fish and a piece of bread – are laid out on a wooden surface. And yet with such majesty. The table displays its objects like a sacrifice, offered up before the nativity. Formed by classical culture, Bernard Buffet was less familiar with the Dutch-Flemish tradition of still-life where the generosity of the objects vies with the exuberance of the scene.
  • Bernard Buffet, Couple nu Assis, 1956
    Estimate €80,000–120,000
    The anonymous portrait of two human beings, as naked as they are stereotypically vulgar, (in the Latin sense of the term), Couple nu assis is a major work. Enshrouded in intense silence by the evident lack of communication between the man and the woman facing each other, this painting is a manifesto of modernity in itself alone.

    The reversal of traditional representations of the body in art means that a work as solemn and disconcerting as Couple nu assis establishes the modernity of a painting without discourse, without dialogue.
  • Bernard Buffet, Jaguar 1955, 1984
    Estimate €50,000–70,000
    Like Pierre Bergé, Bernard Buffet loved beautiful houses and cars: with Pierre Bergé they first had a bicycle, then a moped, a Citroen 2CV; a second-hand Jaguar (depicted in the present painting) and finally a Rolls-Royce. These cars revealed his passion for collecting rather than car racing as, surprisingly, Bernard Buffet did not drive.

    The Jaguar model XK 120 from 1955 holds pride of place in the centre of the painting without a driver, it is the icon of the composition, the lines are simple and drawn out, Bernard Buffet's talent as a draughtsman is evident. The only element of decor is the gas station Texaco, Mobil in the background. Bernard Buffet was a great amateur of the Herge's hero Tintin and like the comic strip the work conveys an illustrative force and has a particularly decorative character.
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