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. 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. In this portrait of Jean Paulhan, the ground and the paint surface are built up with heavy chalk, thus continuing Dubuffet's use of the hautes pâtes technique. Consistent with his "anti-art" position, Dubuffet rejected traditional portraiture, which he regarded as facile imitation. Instead of conveying a sitter's likeness or personality, he focused on certain odd features, which he then exaggerated. Paulhan's intense, close-set eyes, long nose, broad upper lip, two prominent upper front teeth, and thick mane of unruly hair are easily recognizable. His strangely monolithic form seems to emerge from plaster or chalk that has been smeared onto a dark wall; the lines of his face, outstretched hands, jacket, tie, and buttons have been scratched, like graffiti.
The painting of Paulhan was part of Dubuffet's large series of 170 portraits of the writers, poets, and painters who were his friends—his sole subject matter at the time. Between July 1945 and August 1947 Dubuffet drew and painted about twenty-eight portraits of Paulhan, a writer and critic, who was the editor of the literary magazine La nouvelle revue française from 1925 until his death in 1968. Paulhan's collected works fill five volumes and encompass books on modern painting; essays on rhetoric, language, logic, and love; and prefaces to erotic literature, including the works of Sade and Pauline Réage's Histoire d'O (1954), believed by many to have been written by Paulhan himself.
Inscription: Inscribed (on reverse, on upper bar of stretcher): Maast à crinière (portrait de Jean Paulhan)
the artist (until ca. 1947; to Drouin); [Galerie René Drouin, Paris, from ca. 1947]; [Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1948; probably sold to Maremont]; Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, Winnetka, Ill. (by 1959–at least 1966); private collection, Europe (probably by 1973–88; sale, Sotheby's, London, June 30, 1988, no. 648A, as "Maast à crinière [Portrait de Jean Paulhan]," sold to Hahn); [Stephen Hahn, New York, 1988–89; sold in 1989 to Gelman]; Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1989–d. 1998; her bequest to MMA)
Paris. Galerie René Drouin. "Portraits à ressemblance extraite, à ressemblance cuite et confite dans la mémoire, à ressemblance éclatée dans la mémoire de Mr. Jean Dubuffet, peintre," October 7–31, 1947, no. 5 (as "Maast à crinière").
New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, Gouaches, 1946–1948," November 30–December 1948, no. 11 (as "Maast a crinière [Jean Pauhlan (sic)], 1947").
New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Jean Dubuffet: Retrospective Exhibition, 1943–1959," November 10–December 12, 1959, no. 19 (as "Maast à crinière [Jean Paulhan]," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, Winnetka, Ill.).
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," February 19–April 8, 1962, no. 35 (as "Maast with Long Hair—Portrait of Jean Paulhan [Maast à crinière]," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, Chicago).
Art Institute of Chicago. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," May 11–June 17, 1962, no. 35.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Work of Jean Dubuffet," July 10–August 12, 1962, no. 35.
Washington Gallery of Modern Art. "Treasures of 20th Century Art from the Maremont Collection," April 1–May 3, 1964, no. 27 (as "Portrait of Monsieur Paulhan").
New York. Richard L. Feigen & Co. "Dubuffet and the Anticulture," November 25, 1969–January 3, 1970, no. 7 (as "Maast à crinière [Portrait de Jean Paulhan]").
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective," April 27–July 29, 1973, no. 26 (as "Maast à crinière [Portrait de Jean Paulhan]," lent by a private collection).
Paris. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. "Jean Dubuffet," September 28–December 20, 1973, no. 23 (as "Maast à la crinière [Portrait de Jean Paulhan]," lent by a private collection).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Fondation Maeght. "Jean Dubuffet, rétrospective: Peintures, sculptures, dessins," July 6–October 6, 1985, no. 17 (as "Maast à crinière," lent by a private collection).
New York. Wildenstein & Co. "Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective. Works from 1943–1974," April 22–May 29, 1987, no catalogue (unnumbered checklist; as "Maast à crinière [Portrait de Jean Paulhan]," lent by a private collection).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," December 12, 1989–April 1, 1990, unnumbered cat. (p. 244).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," April 19–July 15, 1990, unnumbered cat.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "De Matisse à Picasso: Collection Jacques et Natasha Gelman," June 18–November 1, 1994, unnumbered cat. (p. 267).
Dore Ashton. The Unknown Shore: A View of Contemporary Painting. Boston, 1962, ill. p. 155.
Peter Selz. The Work of Jean Dubuffet. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1962, pp. 34, 166–67 n. 12, catalogue insert, no. 35.
Max Loreau. Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet. Vol. 3, Plus beaux qu'ils croient (portraits). [Paris], 1966, p. 38, no. 45, ill., as "Maast à crinière (Portrait de Jean Paulhan)".
Margit Rowell inJean Dubuffet: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York, 1973, p. 27, no. 26, ill. p. 65.
Sabine Rewald inTwentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Ed. William S. Lieberman. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, pp. 243–45, 299, ill. (color and bw).
William S. Lieberman inTwentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Ed. William S. Lieberman. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, p. 16.
John Russell. "20th-Century Works Collected By a Couple With a Shared Vision." New York Times (December 12, 1989), p. C24.
Sabine Rewald in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1999-2000." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 58 (Fall 2000), p. 60-61, ill. (color).
Sabine Rewald in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2000–2001." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 59 (Fall 2001), p. 62.
Roberta Smith. "In a Brash Yet Refined School, Everyone Belongs Together." New York Times (June 15, 2001), p. E37.