Jean Dubuffet

[doo-buh-fey, dyoo-; Fr. dy-by-fe]

Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (July 31, 1901 - May 12, 1985) was one of the most famous French painters and sculptors of the second half of the 20th century.


Dubuffet was born in Le Havre. He moved to Paris in 1918 to study painting at the Académie Julian, but after six months he left the Académie to study independently. In 1924, doubting the value of art, he stopped painting and took over his father's business selling wine. He took up painting again in the 1930s, but again stopped, only turning to art for good in 1942. His first solo show came in 1944. He approached the surrealist group in 1948, then the College of Pataphysique in 1954.

Influenced by Hans Prinzhorn's book Artistry of the Mentally Ill, Dubuffet coined the term Art Brut (outsider art) for art produced by non-professionals working outside aesthetic norms, such as art by mental patients, prisoners, and children. He amassed his own collection of such art, including artists such as Aloïse Corbaz and Adolf Wölfli. The collection is now housed at the Musée de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dubuffet sought to create an art as free from intellectual concerns as Art Brut, and his work often appears primitive and child-like.

Many of Dubuffet's works are painted in oil paint using an impasto thickened by materials such as sand, tar and straw, giving the work an unusually textured surface. From 1962 he produced a series of works in which he limited himself to the colours red, white, black, and blue. Towards the end of the 1960s he turned increasingly to sculpture, producing works in polystyrene which he then painted with vinyl paint.

In late 1960-1961, Dubuffet began experimenting with music and sound and made several recordings with the Danish painter Asger Jorn.

In 1978 Dubuffet collaborated with American composer and musician Jasun Martz to create the record album artwork for Martz’s avant-garde symphony entitled The Pillory. The much written about drawing has been reproduced internationally in three different editions on tens-of-thousands of record albums and compact discs. A detail of the drawing is also featured on Martz’s second symphony (2005), The Pillory/The Battle, performed by The Intercontinental Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Choir.

Scratched and trowelled in their mudlike pigment, their outlines scrawled in a sophisticated parody of the hasty gential urgency of street graffiti, Dubuffet's cruel portraits of French intellectuals and writers in the 1940s go beyond caricature; they are pathetic monsters.
Robert Hughes

One of Dubuffet's later works was Monument With Standing Beast (1984). Dubuffet died in Paris in 1985. The Fondation Jean Dubuffet collects and exhibits his work.

Selected bibliography

Catalogue Raisonné

  • Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule I-XXXVIII, Pauvert: Paris, 1965-1991
  • Webel, Sophie, L’Œuvre gravé et les livres illustrés par Jean Dubuffet. Catalogue raisonné. Lebon: Paris 1991


  • Jean Dubuffet, Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Tome I, II, Paris 1967; Tome III, IV, Gallimard: Paris 1995
  • Jean Dubuffet, Asphyxiating Culture and other Writings. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1986
    ISBN 0-941423-09-3

Principal studies

  • Michel Ragon, Dubuffet, New York: Grove Press, 1959
  • Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1962
  • Max Loreau, Jean Dubuffet, délits déportements lieux de haut jeu, Paris: Weber, 1971
  • Andreas Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, Basel: Beyeler, 1976
  • Andreas Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1981
  • Michel Thévoz, Jean Dubuffet, Geneva: Albert Skira, 1986
  • Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality. New York: Pace Gallery 1987
    ISBN 0-89659-782-2
  • Mechthild Haas, Jean Dubuffet, Berlin: Reimer, 1997
  • Jean Dubuffet, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 2001
    ISBN 2-84426-093-4
  • Laurent Danchin, Jean Dubuffet, New York: Vilo International, 2001
    ISBN 2-87939-240-3
  • Jean Dubuffet: Trace of an Adventure, ed. by Agnes Husslein-Arco, Munich: Prestel, 2003
    ISBN 3-7913-2998-7
  • Michael Krajewski, Jean Dubuffet. Studien zu seinem Fruehwerk und zur Vorgeschichte des Art brut, Osnabrueck: Der andere Verlag, 2004
    ISBN 3-89959-168-2

External links

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