Jean Dubuffet 1901 —1985


"Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness." – Jean Dubuffet, 1951.

Dubuffet strove to erase all categories, and in doing so he ironically created a category of art all his own -- what he and his fellow artists would term "art brut." Above all, however, he attempted to create a universal art rooted in simple, organic methods. As a result, Dubuffet's artwork remains unfettered, real, and tangible. By antagonizing the established art world, Dubuffet created a new language of painting and sculpture to be understood by all."

Jean Dubuffet was born on July 31, 1901, in Le Havre, France, to a middle-class family. As a youth, Dubuffet especially enjoyed reading the works of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn. Prinzhorn's writings, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken in particular, often explored the powers of the psychopathic art of asylum inmates. Prinzhorn drew endless comparisons between these inmates' artwork and the artwork of children, two groups of unrecognized artists that fascinated Dubuffet. For Prinzhorn, animal instinct and savagery, as embodied by inmates and children, led a person to spiritual strength and harmony with the universe, rather than to neurosis. These very concepts explored by Prinzhorn would later show up in Dubuffet's personal artistic tastes and style.

At the age of 17, Dubuffet moved to Paris to study painting at the traditional  Académie Julian. However, he quickly became unhappy with the academic training offered there and withdrew from the school only six months later to paint on his own. Dubuffet purposefully remained distant from Parisian art society and explored many other vocational and recreational options instead. He developed an interest in music and started to play the piano, bagpipe, and accordion for entertainment whenever he got the chance.

In the 40’s Dubuffet discovered children’s drawings and by that time would have seen mural graffiti showing rapidly sketched and simplified silhouettes, which directly inspired some of the 40’s works.  In the early 40’s Dubuffet had already acquired his public of conoisseurs.   In the decade beginning in 1945 Dubuffet continued his exploration of Art Brut and included figures, influenced in part by the Scream by Edward Munch and Jules Doudin’s drawing entitled Vache (cow) in the Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne. 

In the period between 1957-62 Dubuffet moved to a sort of post-pointillist painting in a series termed Texturologie.  His Hourloupe series filled the next decade, beginning as a bunch of doodles done with a ballpoint pen, though the series gradually evolved to include felt-tip pen drawings. Dubuffet liked the hard, unaccented line created by these pens. Furthermore, pens were instruments of the common man, whom Dubuffet greatly admired. With his Hourloupe series, Dubuffet also explored color even further. He arbitrarily restricted himself to a palette of red, white, blue, and black, making the function of color non-expressionist. Besides providing an opportunity to explore color, the Hourloupe series greatly influenced Dubuffet's sculptures of the 1960s. In 1966, he started to create large three-dimensional sculptures in the Hourloupe style; five years later, the culmination of the Hourloupe sculptures developed as the Coucou Bazar, the Hourloupe Ball. The Coucou Bazar, a huge performance act entirely orchestrated by Dubuffet, was first staged in 1973 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and featured the visual arts, theater, dance, and music. Dubuffet gave new life to artwork through this artistic extravaganza and smorgasbord.  

This final period evolved into Figuration Libre (Free Figuration).  Figuration libre was for Dubuffet a short attempt at synthetizing his previous vocabulary.    For several years Dubuffet had been suffering from strong lumbar pain aggravated by permanent breathlessness. The need to work furiously is as strong as ever. He paints all day seated at his desk on sheets of paper not bigger than 100 cm, which are afterwards juxtaposed  The work belongs to the series of Mires, with strong graphics, red, black, or blue on a shiny yellow or white background, devoid of all figures. In connection with the Mires, the artist writes in his autobiography that there is nothing to be seen anymore that could be named. “It is governed by the idea that the way man interprets his world and which shapes his thinking, is entirely erroneous. Dubuffet has substituted it with another, totally different view.” This new view he mentions is indeed not the “savage gaze” anymore, which he claimed in his beginnings of art brut. It is  more an “absolute view,” similar as to when we say about a musician that he has an “absolute ear.” From now on, Dubuffet knows the exact value of yellow or red colour, of a diagonal or horizontal line.   Dubuffet’s Mires can be seen as the continuation of the calligraphic lyricism of the 50s - 60s, aside from the fact that as all other great artists who do not care about artistic fashion, he has now become or become again an artist a bit separated from the others, or in any case out of touch with art operating in the 1980s, focused on the return of the figurative whereas Dubuffet had parted with it.  These works are dazzling works, all shadow and light characterized by energetic gesture which gives them true life. 

The ultimate series of the Non-lieux pushes the theme of Mires until their extreme limit. The yellow or white background is replaced by black whereas the red or blue graphics is abandoned in favour of white, more or less punctuated by colour, to end up as white on a black background.

“The Mires are not only the result of the artist’s spontaneous expression. They should be put in perspective with the popular graffiti on one side and the history of painting in the 1950s - 1960s on the other. It indeed recalls Michaux’ automatic writing, the gestual lyricism of a Mathieu until Pollock’s random dripping.”

Aline Dallier-Popper, historian of contemporary art and member of l’Association Internationale des Critiques d’ArtRecherches en Esthétique no. 8, october 2002, Fort de France, p.73-83)

From his mid-1950s until his death, Dubuffet took part in various retrospective art exhibits across the world. The exhibits showcased some of his best works, from his perceptive portraits to his intuitive landscapes. Dubuffet often said that the only way to get noticed is to do things the wrong way; in so doing, new insights can be gained into the characteristics of old, common things. Dubuffet continued to gain worldwide attention and critical praise up until his death, which occurred in Paris on May 12, 1985.

In a sense, Dubuffet succeeded in creating a universal art. Around the world, people of all ages, colors, and economies have become captivated with his artwork. His savage style did not scare people away, but rather enthralled and captivated audiences. In fact, even once-skeptical critics eventually became devoted fans of Dubuffet's art. This success can be attributed to Dubuffet's simple and lucid portrayal of everyday people and places."

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

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View synoptic biography below.



French painter, sculptor, printmaker, collector and writer. Dubuffet was temperamentally opposed to authority and any suggestion of discipline and devised for himself a coherent, if rebellious, attitude towards the arts and culture. For all his maverick challenges to the values of the art world, Dubuffet's career exemplified the way in which an avant-garde rebel could encounter notoriety, then fame and eventual reverence. His revolt against beauty and conformity has come to be seen as a symptomatic and appreciable influence in 20th-century culture.


until 1918             Studied at the Académie Julien in Paris starting in

1942       Dubuffet devoted his time to painting again

1948       Foundation of the  "Compagnie de l´art brut"

1962 on Development of the artistic language „Hourloupe"; figurative-abstract cellular writing

1971       Donated his Art Brut collection to the city of Lausanne


Solo exhibitions (selection)

2004       Budapest, Ludwig Museum, Jean Dubuffet

2003       Bilbao, Guggenheim, Jean Dubuffet

                Salzburg, Rupertinum, Museum der Moderne, Jean Dubuffet

1998       Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve

1985       Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Retrospective

1981       New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Exhibition on the occasion of the 80th Birthday

1980       Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Retrospectives

                Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst

                Cologne, Joseph-Haubrich Kunsthalle

1973       New York, Guggenheim Museum,  Retrospective

1964       Venice, Palazzo Grassi, L´Hourloupe

1957       Leverkusen, Schloss Morsbroich,  Retrospective

1954       Paris, Cercle Volney,  Retrospective

1947       New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery

1944, 1945           Paris, Galerie René Drouin


Group exhibitions (selection)

2004       Emden, Kunsthalle, Expressive Bildwelten - Die Schenkungen Otto van de Loo

2003       Linz, Lentos Kunstmuseum, Paris 1945 bis 1965

                Dusseldorf, Galerie Beck & Eggeling, Altenbourg, Ernst, Wols, Dubuffet

                Graz, Neue Galerie, SUPPORT 1 - Die Neue Galerie als Sammlung

                Bremen, Neues Museum Weserburg, Die Fondation Maeght

                Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Gogh Modern

                Paris, FRAC, Les 20 ans des FRAC

                Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Expressiv!


Collections (selected)

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Fondation Beyeler, Basel

Guggenheim Museum, New York

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk/Copenhagen

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas

Reina Sofía, Madrid

Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Tate Modern, London

Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven


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