ART NEWSROOM International

French painter Bernard Buffet takes his own life after a struggle with Parkinson's disease, Paris 6th October 1999

Head of a Clown, 
Bernard Buffet   (1928 - 1999) 

Bernard Buffet was nothing, if not prolific. Almost every sale of art held at l'Hôtel Drouot in Paris features a work by this Parisian artist. His style in fact, owes everything to Paris. It is the style of Montmatre's poster art that had its origins with Toulouse-Lautrec and is to be found today in street artists who will sketch your portrait in charcoal for twenty dollars. Buffet's trademark is his lavish use of thick black lines that give the impression of hasty charcoal streaks even when painted in oil. He exploited the effect commonly used by street artists when an entire length of charcoal is applied on the flat side instead of the point. From Hong Kong to Florence tourists stand dumbfounded as sketch artists use this technique to render two minute scenes of the Ponte Vecchio or floating sampans. They then sign their masterworks with a flourish, another trademark of Buffet whose signature is unmistakable and prominent on everything he did.Montmartre
Perhaps it was this graphic quality punctuated only with touches of sedate colour that so endeared Buffet to the Japanese who have created two museums in his honour. It has a quality reminiscent of traditional Japanese woodcuts. Buffet was not a favourite of the Parisian critics who saw his style as arrière-garde and stagnant. He was well aware of their disdain but continued in his unshakeable fashion. Success for Buffet would lie outside his country not only in Japan but he held a special appeal for the Italians who have honoured him with a room dedicated to his pictures at the Vatican Museum. 
Having discussed the physical trademarks of Buffet's inimitable style one cannot leave out the psychological stamp which permeates his art: existentialist angst. As with Impressionist predecessors Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec and also Picasso the tragi-comic figure of the clown and other circus characters was a recurring theme. Onto the mask of the clown Buffet projected the angst-ridden mood of the post-war French society he mixed in,  populated with characters like Sartre and Juliette Greco.  Mad women, bull fights, Joan of Arc, the Passion of Christ,  most of the subjects he chose were reflective of the philosophical code of a France "qui n'a pas la pêche".
The ego of the artist dominates with the signature like a cloud in the sky.

In his later years Buffet turned to painting and making lithographs of still-life subjects and landscapes, but they never escaped the over-riding sense of neurotic friction. He worked right up till the time of suicide and was obviously pre-occupied with thoughts of death as he painted works for what was to be his next exhibition such as "La Mort 13". This macabre picture shows the king and queen of death as Renaissance garbed skeletons grimacing at the viewer as ravens fly about them (detail below, King). Tenderly, the two skeletons touch fingertips as if to say "we are united even in death". This may be a pathetic last testimony to the passionate lifetime love the artist shared with his wife and muse Annabelle who survives him together with their two adopted children.

B.Buffet, 1999 La Mort 13 (detail)



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