In the middle of January, Nicholas Foulkes’s book about Bernard Buffet will be available in the UK. With halting progress, forces are aligning to reclaim Buffet’s reputation. Once an artist with a massive reputation in postwar France and a darling of the jetset in the 1950s, opinions differ on why the painter’s reputation crashed in the years afterwards.
In his Vanity Fair essay from two years ago, Foulkes offers a variety of explanations from Pierre Bergé’s abandonment of the artist for Yves St. Laurent to Andre Malraux’s close relationship with Picasso who viewed the young painter as a potential usurper to Buffet’s choice of wife who made him unhappy, and, far worse, boring. Or it could simply have been that Buffet degenerated from a compelling artist to a painter of kitsch.
Foulkes doesn’t offer in the magazine article, but he might in the book, the additional fact that the avant garde in art moved from Paris to New York after the end of the second world war.
Whatever the cause of his fallen stature, Foulkes points out that collectors like Adam Lindemann have made a run at putting Buffet into a new context. With the rise of figurative painting, that may yet come to pass.
Here’s a brief anecdote from Foulkes’ Vanity Fair piece:
“It is possible that I might like Buffet and that his a charming man,” snarled the inventor of Cubism, “but that doesn’t stop his painting from amounting to nothing.” Imagine then the grand old artist’s horror when, upon seeing Buffet in a fashionable restaurant on the Croisette in Cannes, Picasso’s children Paloma and Claude lef the table to ask Buffet for his autograph. At the beginning of 1958 it must have seemed inevitable that 29-year-old Buffet would become to the second half of the 20th century what Picasso had been to the first.
The Rise and Fall and Rise of Bernard Buffet (Vanity Fair)