Jean Dubuffet

Leaves with Bird


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Jean Dubuffet 1901–1985
Original title
Feuillages à l'oiseau
Lithograph on paper
Image: 472 × 487 mm
Purchased 1987

Display caption

This was one of a series of lithographs that Dubuffet printed from collages of ink-stained paper. Many of them also included dried and pressed plants, supplied by a botanist friend of the artist. Dubuffet later described the transformation of these everyday plants as they became the raw materials of art: 'My little bit of grass soaked in ink becomes a tree, becomes a play of light on the ground, becomes a fantastic cloud in the sky, becomes a whirlpool, becomes breath, becomes cry, becomes gaze.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

P77184 Leaves with Bird 1953
Feuillages à l'oiseau

Lithograph 472 × 487 (18 5/8 × 19 1/8) on Arches paper 757 × 567 (29 3/4 × 22 3/8); printed by Jean Celestin at Mourlot Frères, Paris and published by Mourlot Frères in an edition of 20
Inscribed ‘J. Dubuffet 53’ below image b.r., ‘Feuillages à l'Oiseau’ below image b.l. and ‘5/20’ below image b.l.
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Noel Arnaud, ed., Jean Dubuffet Grafik, Silkeborg Museum 1961, p.202 no.162, repr. p.127 (another impression); Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, IX, Paris 1968, p.40 no.45, repr. (another impression); Max Loreau, Jean Dubuffet: Délits, déportments, lieux de haut jeu, [?Geneva/Paris] 1971, pp.167–9, repr. p.169 (another impression); Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1984 – 6, 1988, p.324; Sophie Webel, L'Oeuvre gravé et les livres illustrés par Jean Dubuffet, I, Paris 1991, p.117, no.383, repr. (another impression)

As its title indicates, ‘Leaves with Bird’, which is printed in black, is dominated by patterns created by leaves and ferns, above which, near the top right, flies a small bird. Close inspection reveals that the lower half of the image has been printed from a collage, as thin lines of uninked white paper are visible where the pieces of paper abutted in the original maquette.

P77184 is one of a series of fourteen black and white and thirteen colour lithographs made by Dubuffet in the last two or three months of 1953 (see previous entry on P77160, and entries on P07781 in Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982 – 4, 1986, p.386 and on P77031 in Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1984 – 6, 1988, p.324). In the summer of that year the artist spent a holiday in the Savoie region of France. It was there that a friend caught butterflies that Dubuffet used in a series of collages. When, in the autumn months, there were no further butterfly wings to be had, Dubuffet turned to making collages of ink-stained paper. Disliking the fact that the edges of the pieces of paper always remained plainly visible, Dubuffet hit upon the idea of making lithographs of the collages. Using lithographic ink, he would randomly stain with ink pieces of lithographic transfer paper, which he would then cut into pieces and glue onto a support. An impression would be taken using another sheet of transfer paper, and the image would be transfered onto the stone or plate in the usual manner. In the case of P77184 Dubuffet would also have painted directly onto the stone or plate, filling in the background, defining the shape of the bird and possibly working on the area of the collaged pieces of paper in the lower half of the image. Prints that resulted from this procedure had the varied texture and unplanned imagery that he desired, and, unlike the collages, had the appearance of being made all in one piece.

Enamoured of this new technique, Dubuffet experimented with a variety of materials, including sugar, tapioca, threads, vegetables and leaves in making his maquettes. A botanist friend named Dereux supplied Dubuffet with a collection of dried and pressed plants. In a text written in 1957 Dubuffet stated that he had asked his friend to collect for him only the most common plants because he distrusted rare things and exalted in all that was most ordinary (‘Empreintes’, in L'Homme du commun à l'ouvrage, Paris 1973, p.243). He went on to describe the excitement and passion he felt in transforming the elements of everyday life into the raw material of art (ibid., p.248):

It is a question of manipulation - philosophic or poetic (it is the same thing: philosophy has never been more than leaden-footed poetry) which consists of bringing close together the most diverse facts in a very obvious and convincing form, of provoking the sliding from one level to another, from one order to another, of making just one thing capable of becoming at any moment any of the others ... My little bit of grass soaked in ink becomes a tree, becomes a play of light on the ground, becomes a fantastic cloud in the sky, becomes a whirlpool, becomes breath, becomes cry, becomes gaze.

The leaves and ferns in P77184 have a spectral appearance, as only their veins caught the ink when an impression was taken. Other works of the series to include leaves are ‘Les Herboristes’ (repr. Webel 1991, no.362, p.100 in col.), ‘Végétation’ (repr. ibid., no.368, p.105), ‘Fougère au chapeau’, (P77031, repr. ibid., no.376, p.112) and ‘Paysage aux frondaisons’ (repr. ibid., no.382, p.116). In 1960 Dubuffet wrote about such works: ‘It should be noted that the leaves and all of the botanical elements literally invaded these lithographs, taking the place of the allusions to the bare world of minerals that had been so constant in my preceding paintings’ (quoted in Loreau 1968, p.103).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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