Jean Dubuffet was a French painter, printmaker and sculptor who was instrumental in establishing Art Brut, or Outsider Art, rebelling against traditional art styles and culture.
Early Life and Education
Jean Dubuffet was born in Le Havre, France on July 31, 1901. His family owned a prosperous wine distribution business. Dubuffet was interested in painting and in the writings of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, a German psychiatrist and art historian who studied and collected the works of mentally ill patients. Prinzhorn wrote about the connection between psychiatry and art, illness and self-expression.
In 1918, Dubuffet left Le Havre, and the family business, and moved to Paris to study painting at the Académie Julian. After attending classes for six months, he rebelled against the traditional training at the Académie and studied on his own.
Dubuffet wanted his work to reflect his anti-establishment way of thinking and, slowly, his style came to reflect his ideas.
Career and Personal Life
In 1924, Dubuffet took over the family’s wine business. He continued to paint, but, for nearly twenty years, his focus was on the business, music and poetry.
He was married to Paulette Bret from 1925 to 1933. The couple had a daughter.
In 1942, he began to paint, with the idea of incorporating the uninhibited style of mental patients and children in his work. He mixed his paint with sand, gravel, tar, and straw to create textured surfaces, on which he painted raw, primal images.
Dubuffet had his first solo show in Paris in 1946, at the Galerie Rene Drouin in Paris, and received much criticism for his use of crude materials. His career became more firmly established when American art critic, Clement Greenberg, wrote about how the work of Dubuffet impressed him: “Dubuffet seems the most original painter to have come out of the School of Paris since Miro…” Greenberg wrote, “Dubuffet is perhaps the one new painter of real importance to have appeared on the scene in Paris in the last decade.”
Thanks to Greenberg’s praise and the support of gallerist, Pierre Matisse, the son of painter Henri Matisse, Dubuffet’s works were exhibited in America, alongside those of Picasso, Braque and other great European artists.
Around 1965, Dubuffet was inspired by a doodle that he made while on a phone call. The works became part of what he called his L’Hourloupe series: fluid lines filled with minimal color.
Dubuffet used the style of fluid lines to create sculptures, like Monument with Standing Beast, located across the street from Chicago’s City Hall.
Jean Dubuffet died in Paris on May 12, 1985, and was survived by his second wife, Emilie Carlu.
Dubuffet led the way for mid-century and contemporary artists to venture from traditional art forms and experiment with new ideas and materials.
His works can be found in the permanent collection of major museums and galleries around the world, including the Met, MoMA, the National Gallery in the U.S. the Tate, London, the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris and many others in the U.S. and Europe.