A large-scale collaged canvas by Jean Dubuffet from 1976 will be offered at Phillips in a contemporary art auction in London next month. Titled La féconde journée (1976), which features a blue-and-red palette merging figures with abstraction, the work comes from a private New York collection, where it has been held for over a decade. It is expected to fetch £1.5 million–£2 million ($2 million–$2.7 million).
The work, which is almost a perfect square and measures over 6 feet on either side, belongs to the artist’s “Théâtres de mémoire” series, completed between 1975 and 1978 and in which he completed some of the largest collage works of his career. The work represents “a significant milestone in Dubuffet’s career,” said Olivia Thornton, Phillips head of 20th century and contemporary art in Europe, in a statement.
La féconde journée has changed hands between prominent art-world figures several times since its original sale in the 1970s. Its first owner was MoMA trustee Jöel Ehrenkranz, from whom it was later acquired by Baltimore philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff and next by New York modern art collectors Muriel and Howard Weingrow before it went to its current owner.
It comes to the market aptly timed to a major upcoming exhibition devoted to the French painter and sculptor at the Barbican Centre in London, the artist’s first major survey in the United Kingdom in over 50 years. Thornton said, “It is a particularly exciting moment for Dubuffet.” (In 2018, Pace gallery also mounted a show in New York centering monumental works from the “Théâtres de mémoire” series.)
A staple in modern and contemporary art evening auctions, Dubuffet’s current record for a work sold at auction is $24.8 million, achieved in 2015 at Christie’s during the sale of his 1961 Paris Polka in New York. Typically, the works by Dubuffet that fetch the highest prices at auction are ones from the early 1960s.
La féconde journée was included in the artist’s major centenary retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2001, which was the first monographic showcase of Dubuffet’s work staged in France since his Grand Palais’s 1977 exhibition. Most recently, the soon-to-be-auctioned work was featured in an exhibition at New York’s Nassau County Museum of Art in 2006.