With their grotesque, misshapen bodies and coarse surfaces, La Dame au pompon (1946) and Corps de dame—Pièce de boucherie (1950) were intended by Jean Dubuffet as a deliberate assault on European aesthetic and cultural values, rejecting conventions of beauty, artistic skill, and classical refinement. He avidly collected and promoted what he called art brut—including children’s drawings, graffiti, and art made by the mentally ill—which he saw as a viable alternative to academic tradition. In his own work, Dubuffet attempted to emulate what he perceived to be their “raw” or “primitive” quality.
In La Dame au pompon, he incised the crudely drawn figure of a nude woman into a thick, impastoed ground, its color and texture suggestive of mud or feces. For these works, which Dubuffet called his “Hautes pâtes” (thick impastoes) series, he applied a paste of oil paint, cement, plaster, sand, and gravel to create a raised, relief-like ground, then used either a palette knife or the handle of his paintbrush to outline the figure’s contours. Here, the distinction between figure and ground is radically undermined, as the simplistic line drawing confronts the painting’s rough surface. In 1950, Dubuffet began his series “Corps de dame” (Woman’s Body) in which he ironically engaged the long tradition of the female nude in Western art. In Corps de dame—Pièce de boucherie, the nude is no longer treated an idealized emblem of classical beauty, but is instead depicted as a slab of meat, a flattened mass of pink flesh.
Jean Dubuffet first studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1917 and moved to Paris the following year. He studied briefly at the Académie Julian and gave up painting entirely in 1924 due to cultural skepticism. He lived without art for about eight years but by 1942 he devoted himself completely to painting. His first solo show in 1944, at the Galerie René Drouin, Paris, featured paintings inspired by Parisian life in a simplified, often humorous style (“Metro” series, 1943). During the 1940s Dubuffet searched for a direct approach, free from academic constraints, and developed his own childlike style based on images made by children and the disabled. After he began to study what he called art brut in 1945, he founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut in 1948 and published an essay, “L'Art Brut Préféré aux Arts Culturels,” in 1949. Throughout his career Dubuffet explored painting, lithography,
sculpture, writing, and such materials as sand, gesso, tar, and gravel to create textured surfaces. In 1962, inspired by a doodle he made during a telephone conversation, he began his “Hourloupe” series. A Dubuffet retrospective was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 2001.