Woman Grinding Coffee

Jean Dubuffet (French, Le Havre 1901–1985 Paris)

Plaster, oil, and tar with sand on canvas
45 3/4 x 35 in. (116.2 x 88.9 cm)
Credit Line:
In honor of Ralph F. Colin, Gift of his wife Georgia Talmey Colin, 1995
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    Dubuffet waited until he was forty to devote himself to art. A man of exceptional intelligence, he painted raw, although childlike, images that combine a bold handling of texture with a wry, dark sense of humor. The subjects of his early paintings are city streets, ordinary people performing everyday tasks, and likenesses of his friends. He also examined with naïve wonderment ordinary appliances such as a telephone, a typewriter, and even a dentist's tool.

    In 1945 Dubuffet had begun creating what he referred to as hautes pâtes, paintings in which a thick paste served as the ground, color was used sparingly, and contours were scratched like graffiti. The paste used for the ground was made of tar, asphalt, and white lead, often enriched with cement, plaster, or varnishes, to which sand, coal dust, pebbles, and pieces of glass or straw might also be added. Gradually, color virtually disappeared from his work altogether.

    Consistent with his "anti-art" position, Dubuffet rejected traditional portraiture, which he regarded as facile imitation. "Woman Grinding Coffee" is in fact based on the artist's wife, whom he frequently watched as she sat and cranked the handle of a coffee grinder gripped between her knees. The subject, frontally viewed, became a theme for a lithograph and for several drawings and paintings. The final version, however, bears slight resemblance to Lily, who was dark-haired, angular, and thin. Dubuffet flattened the head and broadened the body so that the hieratic figure completely fills the picture's frame. Dubuffet silhouetted this pale form against a somber background, actually a relief built with droppings, lumps, and furrows, combined into a substance that he described as "earth fermented by water."

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (verso, lower left): J. Dubuffet/ noël 1945

  • Provenance

    the artist (to Pierre Matisse); [Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, until 1947; sold to Colin]; Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, New York (1947–his d. 1985); Mrs. Ralph F. (Georgia Talmey) Colin, New York (1985–d. 1994)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. Galerie René Drouin. "Mirobolus, Macadam and Cie, Haute Pâtes de J. Dubuffet," May 3–June 1, 1946, unnumbered cat. (p. 35, ill. p. 9; as "Cafetière").

    New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "J. Dubuffet Paintings," January 7–February 1, 1947, no. 14.

    New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Dubuffet: Paintings, 1943–1949," January 24–February 18, 1950, no. 8.

    New York. M. Knoedler & Company. "The Colin Collection: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture," April 12–May 14, 1960, no. 92 (as "Mouleuse de café [The Coffee Grinder]").

    New York. Museum of Modern Art, New York. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," February 19–April 8, 1962, no. 26 (as "The Coffee Grinder ['Mouleuse de café' or 'Cafetière']," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, New York).

    Art Institute of Chicago. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," May 11–June 17, 1962, no. 26.

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," July 10–August 12, 1962, no. 26.

    London. Tate Gallery. "Jean Dubuffet: Paintings," April 23–May 30, 1966, no. 16 (as "Cafetière [ou Mouleuse de café]," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, New York).

    New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective," April 27–July 29, 1973, no. 19 (as "Coffee Grinder," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, New York).

    Berlin. Akademie der Künste. "Dubuffet Retrospektive," September 7–October 16, 1980, no. 44.

    Vienna. Museum Moderner Kunst. "Dubuffet Retrospektive," November 20, 1980–January 18, 1981, no. 44.

    Cologne. Josef Haubrich Kunsthalle. "Dubuffet Retrospektive," February 7–March 29, 1981, no. 44.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painters in Paris: 1895 1950," March 8, 2000–January 14, 2001, unnumbered cat. (p. 118).

    New York. Pierpont Morgan Library. "Pierre Matisse and His Artists," February 14–May 19, 2002, unnumbered cat. (pp. 110–12).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Pierre and Maria Gaetana Matisse Collection," May 18–September 12, 2004, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Selections from The Pierre and Maria Gaetana Matisse Collection, Part 2," September 28, 2004–January 30, 2005, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Selections from The Pierre and Maria Gaetana Matisse Collection, Part 3," February 15–June 26, 2005, no catalogue.

  • References

    Grace Glueck. "When One City Was the Heart of Art's Youth." New York Times (March 10, 2000), p. E39, ill.

    Max Loreau. Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet. Vol. 2, Mirobolus, Macadam, et Cie. (1945–46). Nouvelle ed. Paris, 2008, p. 64, no. 93, ill.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History