Jean Dubuffet

Born to wine merchants in 1901 in Le Havre, France, painter and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet transitioned between winemaking and art until fully dedicating himself to his creative practice in 1942. In 1918, he attended the acclaimed Academie Julien in Paris but quickly found the academy too rigid, and left to study independently immersing himself in poetry, music and language. Jean Dubuffet died aged 83 in 1985, in Paris, France.


Jean Dubuffet was one of the most radical renewers of art in the immediate postwar period. His work represented a transgressive, willfully anti-cultural agenda, posited as an alternative to the established concepts of art. He saw artistic value in children's drawings, random doodles, graffiti in public spaces, as well as works by prisoners and mentally ill patients. Dubuffet collected such works as a source of inspiration for his own art. For him, these works were the expression of a genuine, alternative form of art, which he termed 'Art Brut' - or 'raw art'. His artistic career is characterized by extraordinary fluctuations in style and technical approaches reflecting his belief that there is no single way of seeing or interpreting the world, thus creating his works as parts of distinct, self- contained series or cycles. His early work was influenced by that of Art Brut, but it was also shaped by the interests in materiality that preoccupied many post-war French artists associated with the Art Informel movement. In the early 1960s, he developed a radically new, graphic style, which he called "Hourloupe," and would deploy it on many important public commissions. In his later years, he will revert back to the spontaneous imagery of his earlier years but this time with vibrant colours ("Sites cycle"). 


Major solo retrospectives of Jean Dubuffet's work include Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2017); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017, 1966); Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo (2009); Guggenheim Bilbao (2003); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2001); Guggenheim Museum, New York (1981, 1966); Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1980) which travelled to Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna and Joseph-Haubrichkunsthalle, Cologne; Tate, London (1966); Palazzo Grassi, Venice (1964); Museum of Modern Art, New York (1962) travelling to Art Institute of Chicago; Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris (1961); and Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen, West Germany (1957). His work is held by almost every major museum in the world.

Jean Dubuffet in his workshop in Vincennes. Photo © Pierre Vauthey/Sygma