Home Magazine Bernard Buffet and the Anti-Abstract Art Group

Throughout art history, there are many examples of artists who have seen both a great success and a subsequent oblivion... 

Bernard Buffet is one of them. Indeed, after having been declared the true successor of Pablo Picasso, the French artist was forgotten and criticized as vulgar and the epitome of poor taste. It is thought that precisely for this reason the artist opted for suicide in 1999 at the age of 71. Most likely, the artist killed himself after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and understood that he could no longer work. 

Over the last three years, however, Buffet’s work is undergoing a surprising revival. Nazanin Lankarani wrote in a New York Times articles titled “Buffet: A Life of Success, Rejection and Now a Celebration” referring to the year 2016:  

His first major retrospective in France opened on Oct. 14 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, a new Buffet biography was released in the United States last month, and a Buffet painting was sold for over 1 million pounds, or about $1.2 million, in auction last June.


The French auction house Artcurial sold Buffet’s “Le Cri du Clown” in June 2015 for 3.15 million Hong Kong dollars, three times its estimate.


Bernard Buffet (Paris, 10 July 1928 - Tourtour, 4 October 1999) was a French painter, an exponent of Expressionism and a member of the "Anti-Abstract Art Group" called "L'homme Témoin". As other important artists of this period like Louise Bourgeois, after initial artistic training in a municipal art course in 1943, he started an important education path to the École Nationale supérieure des beaux-arts. At the beginning of his career the artist was very influenced by the Nazi occupation. A fitting example of this feeling of atrocity can be found in paintings of his such as "The Horrors of War" (1955): 


Bernard Buffet, The Horrors of War, 1955.


Featuring paintings a religious backgrounds, landscapes as well as a series of portraitswiththis period of Buffet's work represents a parade of gaunt expressionist figures, tortured depictions of Christ and bleak still lifes. This moment of frenetic production is also testified by his lithography. His austere vision of the world chimed perfectly with the atmosphere of post-war alienation championed by the fashionable existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. 


Bernard Buffet, Le grand escalier, rendez-vous manqué, 1957


In 1948, at the age of 20, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de la Critique. Ten years later, now a highly renowned artist, he was hailed by New York Times Magazine as one of ‘France’s Fabulous Young Five’, together with Françoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot. During the 1950s and 60s, the atmosphere of anguish and criticism towards existentialism, led Buffet together with Mottet and Rebeyroll to form the group "L'homme Témoin". In this period he turned away from abstractionism opting for figurative and essential painting, whose primary meaning and its greatest expression represented the difficulty in communicating human beings. Its fundamental stylistic characteristics were a streamlining of the figures, custom contour lines and suffocated colours. Typical of this period are Bernard Buffet prints realized as an illustrator of literary works, as in the case of Les Chants de Maldoror written by Comte de Lautréamont in 1952. In this artistic phase, Buffet retained the ancient formula of thematic variety and breadth, ranging from portraits to still lifes, from city views to rural landscapes, from sacred scenes to profane circus scenes, from scenographies to depictions of living beings. Other examples are of Bernard Buffet's clown


Bernard Buffet, Clown series, 1955. 


In 1958 the exhibition held at the Charpentier Gallery, takes on the role of the first retrospective of his overall work and enjoyed great success by audiences and critics. After having lived several years with Pierre Bergé, on 12 December 1958 Buffet married the writer and actress Annabel Schwob, met in Saint-Tropez, and together they adopted 3 children: Virginie, born in 1962, Danielle, born in 1963, and Nicolas, born in 1973.

In 1961 his painting concerning the life of Christ, originally intended for the chapel of Château l'Arc, instead went the way of the Vatican Museums thanks to a donation made by Buffet in relation to Pope Paul VI. In 1973 he received the nomination to be a knight of the Legion of Honor, and on November 23rd the Bernard Buffet Museum was inaugurated, founded by Kiichiro Okano, near Surugadaira, in Japan. Buffet’s continued repertoire of expressionist clowns, bullfighters, cityscapes and flagellated Christs were left open to accusations of quaintness, even kitsch. Nevertheless, in Japan, where two museums are dedicated to his work, he remained a giant, and his work is in the collections of both the Tate and the Pompidou Centre. 


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