Bernard Buffet


Bernard Buffet

Friday, 13 June 2014

elancholic clowns, dark and flat landscapes, sharpfeatured and tense portraits, austere still lifes, all of them executed with a network of straight and sharp black lines, a narrow colour range, an overwhelming void: this defines Bernard Buffet style, it stands out on its own.

Bernard Buffet is one of the most famous French painters of the 20th Century. He was born in 1928 in Paris where he grew up. At the early age of 15, he is admitted at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. When he turns 19, he is noticed by the art dealer Emmanuel David. He is under contract with the Parisian art gallery Drouant-David and Maurice Garnier and later on with the gallery David & Garnier. The renowned art dealer Maurice Garnier will be the sole agent of the artist until his death. When Buffet is 20, he already has had his first solo show and been awarded the Grand Prix de la Critique. From that time his success dazzles. He becomes a super star. His prices soar, exhibits and retrospectives of his work are organised worldwide. As well as paintings and drawings, he creates posters, illustrations, theatre sets, lithographs, postal stamps…and overnight he becomes a millionaire. He is the youngest to be elected at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1974 at the age of 46, a museum showing his work opens in Japan, his work is the subject of numerous monographs and he receives a number of awards and prizes (in 1955, first prize of the French magazine Connaissance des Arts, a year later, the Prix Antral and he becomes Officier de la Legion d’Honneur and Officier des Arts et des Lettres in 1974).

For 8 years he is Pierre Bergé’s lover. Bergé will eventually leave him for Yves Saint Laurent. In 1958, he meets and marries Annabel Schwob, a French model, singer and author and a figure of the golden era of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He will tirelessly paint her, from the day they meet to the day he dies. The media coverage of this famous duo is huge.

He will be a popular icon from the beginning of his career, idolized by the public and admired as well as denigrated by the critic and his contemporaries. But he is talked about, and a lot, in a good way as well as in a bad way. Bacon, Warhol, Giono, Aragon, Cocteau, Druon and Simenon see him as a genius. In the art world, there is a war going on between figurative and abstract artists and the overnight success of the young figurative artist with the unsettling new style makes people jealous, especially in France. Bernard Buffet lives like a king, drives a Rolls Royce and it is a singular paradox for an artist whose genre is so bare and dark. Nevertheless, abroad and especially in the United States, in the United Kingdom and in Japan, his success endures. Andy Warhol will actually say during an interview that he thought that Bernard Buffet was the most important French contemporary artist and Francis Bacon will admit that he was very touched by the artist’s nudes. France will eventually honour him but only after his death, naming a school and a Parisian street after him in 2009 and dedicating two rooms to his work at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 2012.

What is remarkable with Bernard Buffet is that he will stay faithful to his style throughout his career and the critics won’t affect him. His works are strong, moving and overwhelming: love and hate mingle judiciously. They are sometimes qualified as sordid but in reality, this artist just painted what he saw in a striking, biting and effective manner. He didn’t like “pretty” and he painted with such intense feelings that his work evoked them. He used to say, “You don’t talk about painting, you don’t analyse it, you just feel it”.

Annabel spoke about him: “He entered painting like one enters religion, he found a sanctuary, his studio”. When he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he realises that soon he won’t be able to paint anymore, he commits suicide on October 4th 1999 in his property in the Var region of France.

Works by Bernard Buffet are part of the most prestigious private and public collections in the world and it with great pleasure that Opera Gallery Geneva honours one of the greatest French artists with an exhibition presenting over 30 of his paintings; an exhibition rich and full of emotion.


Bernard Buffet at Opera Gallery Geneva: From June 13th to 26th 2014