Jean Dubuffet's Beautiful People: The 1946–1947 Portrait Series, Plus beaux qu’ils croient

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The circumstances surrounding the inception of Dubuffet’s 1946–47 portrait series are well documented. Following an introduction by Jean Paulhan, Dubuffet became a regular at the weekly lunches held by the American socialite and arts patron, Florence Gould. Prompted by Gould’s suggestion that he paint some of her ‘amis’, Dubuffet began work on an expanded, year-long project resulting in a series of over one hundred and eighty works, which included portraits of several of Gould’s guests (Paulhan, Paul Léautaud, Marcel Arland, Marcel Jouhandeau, Ėdith Boissonnas, Henri Michaux, René Bertelé), but also of friends and acquaintances from his own social circle with no connection to the Thursday salon (e.g. Francis Ponge, Georges Limbour, Jean Fautrier, Antonin Artaud, Pierre Matisse, Charles Ratton, René Drouin, Michel Tapié). Inevitably, since Gould’s guests included both collaborators (and, during the Occupation, German officers) and at least one resistant, the series has been interpreted as a commentary on the period’s moral contradictions and tensions. This article has a rather different focus, arguing that these images are to be read primarily as a sustained meditation on the nature of portraiture, in which the pursuit of a good likeness of an individual has been displaced, as a core objective, by the exploration of a more fundamental likeness among human beings; in particular, the portrait serves as a means of celebrating the common embodiment that is the foundation of our connectedness with our world and each other. The coterie in which the series originated is eclipsed by more general perceptual/representational concerns, the sitters visually and—through the titling—verbally recontextualized within very different networks of association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-209
JournalWord and Image
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • embodiment
  • minimalist representation
  • generic play
  • visual and literary allusion


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