PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION
‘In dissecting nature, the artist reveals not only an anatomical and geological perception of landscape, but also a mythological view of its essence. An underlying search for the archaic and the primeval’
Held in the same collection since the 1980s, and featured in the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden’s major Dubuffet retrospective in 1993, Madame au Jardin (Lady in the Garden) is a romantic large-scale work from the artist’s important series of Assemblages. The work was created in 1956, the year after Jean Dubuffet had left Paris for the rural idyll of Vence, and represents the expressive apex of his Art Brut engagement with the human form and the natural world. A full-length female figure over a metre in height, conjured from a patchwork of lilac and pale-green canvas, stands within an intricate setting of earth and foliage. The ground is formed of irregular sections of canvas in a rich array of purplish and russet hues. Separated by a bold, almost cloisonné line and speckled as if with moss or lichen, these sections’ effect is of tightly-packed cobblestones, or the bricks of a drystone wall. In the upper third of the composition, more verdant hues proclaim the garden’s flora. Bright marblings of green and yellow echo variegated leaves and rough tree-bark; radial flowers burst joyfully open like stars around the woman’s head.
With this scintillating, mosaic-like surface of texture and colour, Madame au Jardin stands among the most beautiful examples of Dubuffet’s radical ‘assemblage’ technique. Comprising multiple cut, collaged sections of painted canvas applied like sections of stained glass, this method evolved from works Dubuffet had made in Chaillol in 1953, which employed the wings of butterflies in a similar manner. In Madame au Jardin, as in other Assemblages from this period, Dubuffet uses his inventive technique to pay homage to the beauty of his pastoral environment. Referencing naturally-occurring topographies and tones, the facets of canvas come together to create a sumptuous and seductive vision. The vivid ‘all-over’ effect achieved in works like Madame au Jardin would lead later to the even earthier Texturologies of 1957-58, while the work’s totemic central figure looks back to the iconic Corps de Dames series of 1950, which mapped vast female forms as almost landscape-like expanses of textural pigment.
The title Madame au Jardin hints at a traditional scene of a lady in her garden, perhaps harking back to the elegant figures and dappled sunlight of Impressionism. Dubuffet pointedly disrupts such bucolic expectations by instead presenting us with a monumental earth-mother, at one with her environment and replete with the strength of an ancient idol or standing stone. This typically playful ‘anti-art’ gesture, shifting away from the polished and artificial, exemplifies Dubuffet’s Art Brut return to primitive nature: a mission that he saw as curative or even redemptive in the years following the horror of the Second World War. The Assemblage technique was particularly fruitful in bringing Dubuffet closer to the colour and forms of the natural world. In comparison to his previous collage work with butterfly wings, the Assemblages allowed Dubuffet to more closely approximate the fleeting polychrome complexities of his environment. He saw that the colours of nature – subject to continual variations in light and atmospheric conditions – were impossible to pin down in something as static as pigment. By bringing together disparate chromatic fragments, he ruptured all sense of tonal continuity, transforming the picture plane into a fluid, prismatic space. ‘From the start of these canvas cut-outs I sensed that I was going to find in them what I had vainly looked for in other means’, he explained; ‘… the colour was seemingly very much dispersed through the entire picture and in such a way as to make one forget it, to evade analysis by the eye, yet produce a glittering mother-of-pearl scintillation in which it is difficult to make out the particular colours that gave rise to it … By this entirely different use of colour, by taking away from it all decorative qualities and aiming uniquely at obtaining a striking effect of intense life, it seemed to me that I would be opening up a very vast field of new explorations’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 105). Set within her shimmering garden like a jewel, Madame au Jardin is charged with this ‘striking effect of intense life’, making an exultant and spirited statement of intent.
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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION
Madame au Jardin (Lady in the Garden)
and dated ‘J. Dubuffet 56’ (upper left); signed, titled and dated ‘Madame au jardin J. Dubuffet Sept 56’ (on the reverse)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Paris, Galerie Rive Droite, Jean Dubuffet : Tableaux d'assemblages, 1957, no. 19.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Exhibition of Peintures d’assemblages, Graffiti, Sols, Texturologie and other recent works done in 1956 and 1957 by Jean Dubuffet, 1958, no. 7 (illustrated, unpaged).
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Painting in France 1900-1967, 1968, p. 121, no. 74. This exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts and San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.
Birmingham, Donald Morris Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Two Decades 1943-1962, 1983, no. 31.
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Jean Dubuffet 1943–1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages, 1993, p. 148, no. 68 (illustrated in colour, p. 113).
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XII: Tableaux d’assemblages, Lausanne 1969, p. 130, no. 69 (illustrated, p. 66).
Galerie Rive Droite, Paris.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Donald Morris Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1980s.