Jean Dubuffet

The Apparel Wall -the space where we share our tributes to the most influential and inspiring artists that impacted the world of art- is back. This time honor the truly indomitable spirit of Jean Dubuffet, the painter and sculptor founder of the art movement 'art brut'. A man who challenged the conventional cliches of beauty, in favour of a more pure, realistic, mortal approach to the arts.

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Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (31 July 1901 – 12 May 1985) was a French painter and sculptor. His idealistic approach to aesthetics embraced so-called "low art" and eschewed traditional standards of beauty in favor of what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to image-making.

He is perhaps best known for founding the art movement art brut, and for the collection of works—Collection de l'art brut—that this movement spawned. Dubuffet enjoyed a prolific art career, both in France and in America, and was featured in many exhibitions throughout his lifetime.


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Le cirque, 1970 – 2020

Le cirque is a habitable environment that suggests an urban plaza, which Dubuffet first conceived and sculpted in 1970 as a model for future enlargement at architectural scale. Measuring thirty feet square and thirteen feet in height, Le cirque is one of the last remaining works from the late-1960s and early-1970s to be realized at heroic size. Marking a crucial moment in Dubuffet’s deeply influential oeuvre, it stands as a major achievement in the artist’s sculptural practice and heralds the final chapter in his celebrated Hourloupe cycle, which lasted from 1962 to 1974. This cycle, the longest and most prolific of Dubuffet’s career, began with drawings and paintings, to which Dubuffet added reliefs to expand their presence spatially and “give them life,” as the artist stated. This evolved further into painted and sculpted panels, which came together in ambitious sculptural and architectural installations.*

* Installation view, Jean Dubuffet, Le cirque, 1970 – 2020, polyurethane paint on epoxy, 13' x 29' x 31' © 2020 Jean Dubuffet / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; ADAGP, Paris. Photography by Kyle Knodell - Pace Gallery

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Dubuffet was born in Le Havre to a family of wholesale wine merchants who were part of the wealthy bourgeoisie. His childhood friends included the writers Raymond Queneau and Georges Limbour. He moved to Paris in 1918 to study painting at the Académie Julian, becoming close friends with the artists Juan Gris, André Masson, and Fernand Léger. Six months later, upon finding academic training to be distasteful, he left the Académie to study independently. During this time, Dubuffet developed many other interests, including free noise music, poetry, and the study of ancient and modern languages.

Dubuffet also traveled to Italy and Brazil, and upon returning to Le Havre in 1925, he married for the first time and went on to start a small wine business in Paris. He took up painting again in 1934 when he made a large series of portraits in which he emphasized the vogues in art history. But again he stopped, developing his wine business at Bercy during the German Occupation of France. Years later, in an autobiographical text, he boasted about having made substantial profits by supplying wine to the Wehrmacht.



After 1946, Dubuffet started a series of portraits, with his own friends Henri Michaux, Francis Ponge, George Limbour, Jean Paulhan and Pierre Matisse serving as 'models'. He painted these portraits in the same thick materials, and in a manner deliberately anti-psychological and anti-personal, as Dubuffet expressed himself. A few years later he approached the surrealist group in 1948, then the College of Pataphysique in 1954

He was friendly with the French playwright, actor and theater director Antonin Artaud, he admired and supported the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline and was strongly connected with the artistic circle around the surrealist André Masson. In 1944 he started an important relationship with the resistance-fighter and French writer and publisher Jean Paulhan who was also strongly fighting against "intellectual terrorism", as he called it.


Dubuffet achieved very rapid success in the American art market, largely due to his inclusion in the Pierre Matisse exhibition in 1946. His association with Matisse proved to be very beneficial. Matisse was a very influential dealer of contemporary European Art in America, and was known for strongly supporting the School of Paris artists. Dubuffet's work was placed among the likes of Picasso, Braque, and Rouault at the gallery exhibit, and he was one of only two young artists to be honored in this manner. 

A Newsweek article dubbed Dubuffet the 'darling of Parisian avant-garde circles,' and Greenberg wrote positively about Dubuffet's three canvases in a review of the exhibit. In 1947 Dubuffet had his first solo exhibition in America, in the same gallery as the Matisse exhibition. Reviews were largely favorable, and this resulted in Dubuffet having at least an annual, if not a biannual exhibition at that gallery. Due to his participation in a steady stream of art exhibitions within his first few years in New York, Dubuffet became a constant presence in the American art world. Dubuffet's association with the School of Paris provided him with a unique vehicle to reach American audiences, even though he dissociated himself from most of the ideals of the school, and reacted very strongly against the 'great traditions of painting.' Americans were intrigued by Dubuffet's simultaneous roots in the established French vanguard and his work, which was such a strong reaction against his background. Many painters of the New York school at this time were also trying to seek status within the avant-garde tradition, and drew influence from Dubuffet's work. His reception in America was very closely linked to and dependent upon the New York art world's desire to create its own avant-garde environment.


Between 1947 and 1949, Dubuffet took three separate trips to Algeria—a French colony at the time—in order to find further artistic inspiration. In this sense, Dubuffet is very similar to other artists such as Delacroix, Matisse, and Fromentin.

However, the art that Dubuffet produced while he was there was very specific insofar as it recalled Post-War French ethnography in light of decolonization. Dubuffet was fascinated by the nomadic nature of the tribes in Algeria—he admired the ephemeral quality of their existence, in that they did not stay in any one particular area for long, and were constantly shifting. The impermanence of this kind of movement attracted Dubuffet and became a facet of art brut. In June 1948, Dubuffet, along with Jean Paulhan, Andre Breton, Charles Ratton, Michel Tapie, and Henri-Pierre Roche, officially established La Compagnie de l'art brut in Paris. This association was dedicated to the discovery, documentation and exhibition of art brut. Dubuffet later amassed his own collection of such art, including artists Aloïse Corbaz and Adolf Wölfli. This collection is now housed at the Collection de l'art brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. His art brut collection is often referred to as a "museum without walls", as it transcended national and ethnic boundaries, and effectively broke down barriers between nationalities and cultures.


'Artistic style'

Dubuffet's art primarily features the resourceful exploitation of unorthodox materials. Many of Dubuffet's works are painted in oil paint using an impasto thickened by materials such as sand, tar and straw, giving the work an unusually textured surface. Dubuffet was the first artist to use this type of thickened paste, called bitumen. Additionally, in his earlier paintings, Dubuffet dismissed the concept of perspective in favor of a more direct, two-dimensional presentation of space. Instead, Dubuffet created the illusion of perspective by crudely overlapping objects within the picture plane. This method most directly contributed to the cramped effect of his works. From 1962 he produced a series of works in which he limited himself to the colours red, white, black, and blue. Towards the end of the 1960s he turned increasingly to sculpture, producing works in polystyrene which he then painted with vinyl paint.

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'Jardin d'Hiver'-'Jardin d'émail'

In late 19601961, Dubuffet began experimenting with music and sound and made several recordings with the Danish painter Asger Jorn, a founding member of the avant-garde movement COBRA. The same period he started making sculpture, but in a very not-sculptural way. As his medium he preferred to use the ordinary materials as papier-mâché and for all the light medium polystyrene, in which he could model very fast and switch easily from one work to another, as sketches on paper. At the end of the 1960s he started to create his large sculpture-habitations, such as 'Tour aux figures', 'Jardin d'Hiver' and 'Villa Falbala' in which people can wander, stay, and contemplate. In 1969 ensued an acquaintance between him and the French Outsider Art artist Jacques Soisson. In 1974 Dubuffet created Jardin d'émail: a very large outdoor painted sculpture designed for the Kröller-Müller Museum

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The Pillory

In 1978 Dubuffet collaborated with American composer and musician Jasun Martz to create the record album artwork for Martz's avant-garde symphony entitled The Pillory. The much written about drawing has been reproduced internationally in three different editions on tens-of-thousands of record albums and compact discs. A detail of the drawing is also featured on Martz's second symphony (2005), The Pillory/The Battle, performed by The Intercontinental Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Choir.



Recorded at California Recording Studios Hollywood, Riverside Recordings London and Neoteric Recording Studios Los Angeles. Mixing at California Recording Studios. Mastering at L.R.S., Burbank. Composed, scored and reheased at: 'The Village', Montrose, California; 'Whitegate', Los Angeles, California; Alton McCray Ltd., New York City; Virtual Earth Ltd., London Produced exclusively for Neoteric Music.

Cover drawing: drawn especially for "The Pillory"


This legendary Mellotron masterpiece, first released in 1978 features over 40 musicians creating over 1 hour of contemporary classical, avant-garde, noise, progressive and electronic sounds (featuring full orchestra).



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"Excellent results at Dorotheum’s Contemporary Art evening auction on 5 June 2019. Right at the beginning, a bidding battle on the telephone for Bon Espoir. Paysage avec personnage (Good Hope. Landscape with Figures) by Jean Dubuffet, the founder of “Art Brut”, ended only after 15 minutes, and far above the estimated value, at 735,300 euros."

Dorotheum Museum