Jean Dubuffet

(Le Havre, France, 1901 - 1985, Paris)

Europe, French

Artist Jean Dubuffet is known for his criticism of the Parisian art world and for coining the term “art brut” to describe the works of artists with no formal training. At the age of 17, Dubuffet left his hometown of Le Havre to study painting at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris. He quickly became disillusioned with his academic training, however, and left school to paint on his own. In 1925, Dubuffet returned to Le Havre to take over his father’s wine business, and withdrew from the art world for the next 20 years.

Dubuffet’s reawakening as an artist began with a 1945 trip to mental hospitals in Switzerland to view art created by patients. Inspired by the 1922 book by psychiatrist Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, 'Artistry of the Mentally Ill', which had been widely discussed in avant-garde circles in the interwar period, and by his awareness that Paul Klee had been similarly inspired by the work of untrained artists, Dubuffet began collecting patient art, hoping to introduce the world to such undiscovered geniuses as Adolf Wölfli (1864 – 1930) and Aloïse Corbaz (1886 – 1964). Rather than viewing these works through the lens of psychiatry, Dubuffet sought to define them by the isolation their makers experienced. “Alienation,” said Dubuffet, “instead of leading to spiritual bankruptcy, opens onto exaltation and jubilation.”

Dubuffet emulated the raw and sometimes violent energy of the works he studied, published and collected. While Dubuffet’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 1944 provoked a scandal, by his 1947 exhibition in New York City, he was a star. Dubuffet’s early work mixed sand and pebbles in with thick layers of oil paint to create an impasto he could manipulate with his fingers; later in his career Dubuffet also created sculpture and public works. Meanwhile, Dubuffet continued to promote the art of society’s outsiders through publications and exhibitions. Dubuffet exhibited widely and internationally during his lifetime, and his works are included in such collections as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the National Galerie, Berlin; the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, among many others.

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