Dubuffet, Jean

“Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet was born on July 31, 1901, in Le Havre, France, into a middle-class family that distributed wine. Dubuffet disliked authority from a very early age and left home at 17, failing to complete his art education, wavering for many years between painting and working in his father’s wine business. He preferred to educate himself by reading the work of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who drew comparisons between the art of asylum inmates and the artwork of children. Based on these observations, Prinzhorn stated that it was savagery, or base animal instinct, that leads to universal harmony, arguing that it was the primal instinct, not intellectual theory or analysis, that connected all living things. This concept had a strong influence on Dubuffet’s later career.

Attracted to the art of children and the mentally ill, Dubuffet did much to promote their work, collecting it and promulgating the notion of Art Brut. His early work was influenced by that of outsiders, 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. However, he remains best known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his pictures from the 1940s and ’50s.

Until his death in 1985, Dubuffet was exhibited in retrospectives and exhibitions around the world. Rebelling against art, culture, and intellectualism, Dubuffet was instrumental in establishing the style of Art Brut, an aesthetic of his own that was devoid of the traditional standards of its time, both in style and subject matter. His primitive approach to art making, with its simple, childlike figures and bold, visually dramatic palette, has universal appeal and is instrumental in modern psychology and studies of mental development.

The artwork of Jean Dubuffet continues to be exhibited and collected by museums worldwide.