Auction | Pierre Bergé’s Mega-Artist: Bernard Buffet

Autoportrait sur
fond noir
, 1956

Oil on canvas.
Estimate €100,000 >

Pierre Bergé
From One Home to Another
Paris | France
Exhibition + Sale
29 > 31 October 2018

Boeuf écorché, 1954
Oil on canvas.
Estimate €200,000 >

A dozen paintings by French artist Bernard Buffet will be exhibited and sold in a charity auction in Paris next week. Redolent of the pair’s intense, shared history during the 1950s, and also perhaps the turbulence of their later relationship, they were collected by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, and are among 1000 items from Bergé’s homes in Paris, Normandy, Provence and Morocco included in Sotheby’s sale.

In 1974, in France, where painter, lithographer, and etcher Buffet’s work was as instantly recognisable as an Yves Saint Laurent (1936 > 2008) trouser suit, he was voted the public’s favourite post-war artist. Born in Paris in 1928, tellingly, growing up during the Nazi occupation, he was only 16-years-old when he enrolled in art classes, afterwards progressing to the École des Beaux-Arts, where his prolific output was first noted. Having found a sponsor and adopted an expressionist approach, his work was exhibited in a mixed show in 1946 that immediately gained him public attention. When the magazine Connaissance des arts named the 10 best post-war artists of 1958, Buffet, aged 30, was at the top of the list. That same year, the first retrospective of his work was held at the Galerie Charpentier. Buffet was a founder-member of the short-lived anti-abstraction L’Homme Témoin (Witness) group, which argued passionately in favour of representational art. In spite of his popular recognition, and perhaps to some extent in envious reaction against it, his bold rejection of abstraction – at the time, the dominating trend – earned him the scorn of many of his contemporaries. Once hailed as the artistic successor to Picasso, he would later experience more general derision.

According to Nicholas Foulkes’ 2016 biography, Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Mega-Artist: ‘He was a bisexual, an alcoholic recluse and a socialite [who] quickly became a part of the same pack of young, successful artists that included Françoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot… He bought a castle, a Rolls-Royce, a boat and an island by age 30, all from the proceeds of his painting. Postwar European society did not appreciate such a display of wealth.’ He would fall into near oblivion, his work reviled as vulgar: the epitome of bad taste.

Jaguar 1955, 1984
Oil on canvas.
Estimate €50,000 >

Tête de Bretonne, 1955
Oil on canvas.
Estimate €30,000 >

Nature morte
à la sole
, 1952

Oil on canvas.
Estimate €100,000 >

Over the course of a career lasting more than 50 years, which ended with his tragic suicide in 1999 – after a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s disease – Buffet created more than 8,000 paintings and a large number of prints and was inducted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Revolving around concepts related to art history, religion, death, sexuality, popular culture, and politics, his work is invariably graphic, often figurative, is atmospherically melancholic, and always rendered in a sombre palette. It forms part of the collections in many prominent international museums, including those of Tate Modern, London, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and of the dedicated Bernard Buffet Museum in Japan (inaugurated, 1973).

L’atelier, 1956
Oil on canvas.
Estimate €80,000 >

Astute businessman, Pierre Bergé (1930 > 2017), who evidently continued to purchase Bernard Buffet’s work, even after its popularity had plummeted, would no doubt have been delighted that having undergone a reappraisal, and been the subject a 2016 retrospective exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the average compound annual return for the artist in 2018 is 9.9%, with 85.2% of works increasing in value, which bodes very well for Pierre Bergé: From One Home to Another at Sotheby’s Paris.

All works by Bernard Buffet, images courtesy Sotheby’s

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