Jean Dubuffet

Biography of Jean Dubuffet

Stridently opposed to to the rigors of intellectualism, Jean Dubuffet strove to find a simpler, and perhaps more savage connection with humanity. An iconic cultural rebel, Dubuffet founded the Art Brut movement (raw art, or art left in a natural state).


Born in Le Havre, France in 1901, Jean Dubuffet’s issues with authority were evident early, and he abandoned his studies at the Académie Julian after deeming them pointless. Taking over his father’s wine business he retreated into a rural ideal. Seeking to find unity with the common man, he searched for a simpler life with a focus on lyricism.


Jean Dubuffet’s return to painting in the early 1940s was highly controversial. Influenced by the work of the mentally ill, he strove to shape his own aesthetic, untethered to current trends or concepts. Concerned with the human condition, which he believed was barbaric and painful, his hollow-eyed portraits are shocking and at times unpalatable. Distancing himself from the skill and technique usually associated with fine-art painting, he only needed spoons and fingers to make art.


With paintings, carvings, limited editions and items made by the mentally ill, Jean Dubuffet would often incorporate objects into his work. Famously he said “Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction.” He died in 1985. His primitive approach to art making is as compelling now as it was 80 years ago and he continues to inspire followers and fans.


In 1973 the Foundation Jean Dubuffet was set up to permanently exhibited his work as well as provide a center of study. In 1964 he had a major exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, exhibiting around 200 works. He has exhibited around the world, most notably at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1966, which presented 76 works. In 2009 the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Sao Paulo, Brazil, held a major retrospective for Dubuffet’s art work. In 2016 the exhibition “Jean Dubuffet—Metamorphoses of Landscape” was held at the Foundation Beyeler in Basel Switzerland. 

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