Jean Dubuffet

Monsieur Plume with Creases in his Trousers (Portrait of Henri Michaux)


In Tate Modern

Jean Dubuffet 1901–1985
Original title
Monsieur Plume plis au pantalon (Portrait d'Henri Michaux)
Oil paint and grit on canvas
Support: 1302 × 965 mm
frame: 1369 × 1035 × 72 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

Dubuffet roughly scraped the outline of a figure into thick paint. The face and body are scarred and crumpled. It is one of a group of unusual portraits Dubuffet made of his artistic and literary friends. This is the poet-painter Henri Michaux. His writings featured ‘Monsieur Plume’, a semi-autobiographical comic character. Dubuffet painted him as this alter ego.

Gallery label, June 2020

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘J. Dubuffet/47’ bottom right and, on back of canvas, ‘Portrait de Henri Michaux’ and ‘J. Dubuffet/1947’

Oil and grit on canvas, 51 1/4 × 38 (130.2 × 96.5)
Purchased from E. J. Power (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Michel Tapié, Paris; with Galerie Rive Droite, Paris; E.J. Power, London, 1957

Exh: Portraits à Ressemblance extraite, à Ressemblance cuite et confite dans la Mémoire, à Ressemblance éclatée dans la Mémoire de Mr. Jean Dubuffet, Peintre, Galerie René Drouin, Paris, October 1947 (16); Peintures, Dessins et Divers Travaux exécutés de 1942 à 1954 par Jean Dubuffet, Cercle Volney, Paris, March–April 1954 (30); Jean Dubuffet: Paintings 1943–1957, Arthur Tooth & Sons, April–May 1958 (4, repr.); Rétrospective Jean Dubuffet, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, December 1960–February 1961 (43, repr.); Jean Dubuffet Paintings, Tate Gallery, April–May 1966 (25, repr.)
Lit: Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet III: Plus Beaux qu'ils croient (Portraits), Paris 1966, no.113, p.80 repr.
Repr: Michel Tapié, Un Art autre, Paris 1952, n.p.; Georges Limbour, Tableau Bon Levain à Vous de cuire la Pâte: L'Art Brut de Jean Dubuffet, Paris 1953, p.92; The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.46

In 1946 Dubuffet often joined the circle of writers and artists who met on Thursdays as guests of Mrs Florence Gould to dine together and hold discussions. Mrs Gould urged him to make a portrait of one of their number, the writer Paul Léautaud. Although Dubuffet asked for further time to think about this, it gave him the idea of making a series of portraits of his friends and he began to pay close attention to their appearance and idiosyncrasies. Then between August 1946 and August 1947 he drew and painted from memory a series of portraits which was exhibited at the Galerie René Drouin in October 1947 with the catalogue heading ‘Les gens sont bien plus beaux qu'ils croient’ (people are much more beautiful than they think). All these had a strong element of the grotesque and caricature, and the forms in the oil paintings were sometimes partly incised into a surface incorporating cement, lime or plaster. Besides novelists, dramatists, poets and men of letters such as Antonin Artaud, Pierre Benoit, Joë Bousquet, Marcel Jouhandeau, Paul Léautaud and Jules Supervielle, the subjects included writers on contemporary art such as Michel Tapié, dealers such as René Drouin, and the painters Chaissac and Fautrier.

This portrait, painted in January 1947, is one of six portraits in oils of the Belgian-born French poet, draughtsman and watercolourist Henri Michaux, all made in the months December 1946–January 1947. The other titles include ‘Henri Michaux Japanese Actor’, ‘Monsieur Plume Botanic Specimen’ and ‘Portrait of Henri Michaux (large round cream eyes)’.

Published in:

The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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