Jean Dubuffet, ‘Enfin chez soi’, 1957, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

Property in which Sotheby’s has an Ownership Interest (see Conditions of Sale for further information)

From the Catalogue

"The objective of painting is to animate a surface which is by definition two-dimensional and without depth. One does not enrich it in seeking effects of relief or trompe-l'oeil through shading; one denatures and adulterates it...I feel the need to leave the surface visibly flat. My eyes like to rest on a surface which is very flat, particularly a rectangular surface. The objects represented will be transformed into pancakes, as though flattened by a pressing iron." —Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet stands as one of the 20th century’s most innovative artists, integral in the creation of an artistic vocabulary anchored in the realm of the primitive as a means of describing the world around him. A seminal work from Dubuffet’s Lieux cursifs series executed between April and September 1957, Enfin chez soi presents a poignant homecoming that is likely autobiographical. In 1955, Dubuffet moved to Vence in the South of France to escape the turbulence and loneliness of city life in Paris, but found himself often traveling between the two cities for two years. The rural, open landscape in Vence served as the necessary impetus for Dubuffet to drastically shift his compositional structure. In Enfin chez soi, the horizon line that previously dominated Dubuffet’s earlier landscapes begins to recede and the figures—traditionally signs of the city’s disconnect who were often depicted expressionless and pressed up against one another—are smiling jovially, emitting an air of affection that is underscored by the warm and inviting tones of the canvas. Translated as “home sweet home!” or “finally home,” Enfin chez soi is a welcoming glimpse into the peaceful, inner sanctum of the artist’s life.

The affable domestic scene in Enfin chez soi occupies a paradoxical space on the picture plane. Seen both from a birds-eye perspective yet with a hint of a horizon line along the top edge, the flattened compositional structure emphasizes the raw tactility of each figure, keeping in line with his philosophy to “Let us seek instead ingenious ways to flatten objects on the surface; and let the surface speak its own language and not an artificial language of three-dimensional space which is not proper to it” (Hubert Damisch, Ed., Jean Dubuffet: Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Paris 1967, Vol. I, p. 74). In attempting to rid art of its hierarchical notions, Dubuffet certainly looked to Henri Matisse who similarly experimented with disorienting perspectives as a means of exploring the pictorial space. As in Matisse’s The Artist’s Family, Dubuffet abandons traditional three-dimensional perspective, volumetric illusion and prescribed color relationships in search of a new kind of art. The naïve formal language exhibited in Dubuffet’s Enfin Chez Soi certainly imitates that of Matisse’s figures, whose reduced facial features and lack of realism were certainly treated as radical at the time the work was painted. Both artists challenge the viewer's eyes to scan the canvas and actively participate in the composition.

In the present work, Dubuffet has "brutally scarred, without restraint" rich hues of ochre mixed with amber, walnut and even a deep amethyst beneath a translucent alabaster white, all creating a profoundly marbleized surface that embraces the corporal nature of the tactile earth. The use of such colors draws the viewer's attention to the most basic materials available to us in the natural world as if to exclaim, as Dubuffet wrote in 1957, “Look at what lies at your feet! A crack in the ground, sparkling gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris, other equally worth subjects for your applause and admiration” (Karen Rosenberg, “A Creative Vision So Down to Earth: Jean Dubuffet at the Museum of Modern Art,” The New York Times, 1 January 2015). In his journals, Dubuffet elaborates on his deliberately crude process of using an assorted set of tools and techniques to achieve such a rich and varied terrain, describing a process that could take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for just one work (Max Loreau, Ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XIII: célébrations du sol I, lieux cursifs, texturologies, topographies, Lausanne 1970, p. 45). First, Dubuffet would generously spread the darker pigment with a spatula, scraping it throughout to flatten the paint before quickly applying touches of ochre and cadmium red in certain places. With a larger knife, Dubuffet swiftly covered the canvas with an opalescent white, from which he would carve out his figures using the tip of a rounded knife. In subtracting his figures from a fully painted canvas, Dubuffet allows them to literally emerge from the earth, their hollow grooves adding to the built up texture on the canvas. These worked and reworked surfaces call to mind the obsessive acts of layering, erasures and squeegee scrapes in Gerhard Richter’s series of Abstraktes Bilder, where the mere texture and patterns created by chance become the subjects themselves. A celebration of Dubuffet's Art Brut aesthetic and a deliberate rejection of urban pretensions, Enfin chez soi stands as one of Dubuffet's most successful homages to a simpler way of life.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated 57; signed, titled and dated juin 57 on the reverse

Avignon, Palais des Papes, Dubuffet: Hauts lieux: paysages 1944-1984, June - October 1994, p. 106, illustrated in color

Paul Facchetti, Ed., Jean Dubuffet: Catalogue des peintures faites à Vence du 1er avril au 31 août 1957, Paris 1958, cat. no 8, illustrated
Max Loreau, Ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XIII: célébrations du sol I, lieux cursifs, texturologies, topographies, Lausanne 1970, cat. no. 49, p. 39 , illustrated
Max Loreau, Jean Dubuffet: délits, déportements, lieux de haut jeu, Paris 1971, p. 233, illustrated

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Jean Dubuffet

In his seminal modernist paintings, Jean Dubuffet delved deep into questions of ground and materiality. Such themes were highly charged during the post–WWII period in which he worked, shortly after the destruction of many European cities as well as the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the war. The surfaces of his canvases are thick and clotted; their aesthetic is muddy and scatological. Dubuffet coined the term “Art Brut” to describe the kind of work that he collected and aspired toward: the untrained, outsider art of alienated groups, including children and the mentally ill. His own paintings are purposefully “deskilled,” often possessing the spontaneity and crude aesthetic of finger paintings.

French, 1901-1985, Le Havre, France, based in Paris, France