Jean Dubuffet

The Exemplary Life of the Soil (Texturology LXIII)


Not on display

Jean Dubuffet 1901–1985
Original title
Vie exemplaire du sol (Texturologie LXIII)
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1295 × 1619 mm
frame: 1360 × 1681 × 65 mm
Purchased 1966

Display caption

Dubuffet invented various techniques to portray soil in a series of paintings called ‘Texturologies’. For this work, he adapted the ‘Tyrolean’ technique, used by stone masons to texture newly plastered walls. Dubuffet shook a brush over the painting, which was laid on the floor, to scatter tiny droplets of paint across the surface. His intention was to give an ‘impression of teeming matter, alive and sparkling, which I could use to represent soil, but which could also evoke all kinds of indeterminate textures, and even galaxies and nebulae’.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Jean Dubuffet born 1901 [- 1985]

T00868 Vie exemplaire du Sol (Texturologie LXIII) (Exemplary Life of the Soil (Texturology LXIII)) 1958

Inscribed 'J. Dubuffet 58' b.l. and on back 'Vie Exemplaire du Sol | Octobre 58 (Texturologie | LXIII) | J. Dubuffet'
Oil on canvas, 51 x 63 3/4 (130 x 162)
Purchased from the artist through the Galerie Beyeler, Basle, and the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1966
Exh: Jean Dubuffet, Museum of Modern Art, New York, February-April 1962 (151) as 'The Example set by the Soil'; Art Institute of Chicago, May-June 1962 (151); Los Angeles County Museum, July-August 1962 (151); Painting and Sculpture of a Decade 1954-64, Tate Gallery, April-June 1964 (53, repr.); Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, Tate Gallery, April-May 1966 (93, repr. in colour); Jean Dubuffet, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, June-August 1966 (82, repr. in colour); Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, Guggenheim Museum, New York, April-July 1973 (96, repr. in colour; colours very inaccurate); Jean Dubuffet, Grand Palais, Paris, September-December 1973 (113, repr.)
Lit: Jean Dubuffet in exh. catalogue Jean Dubuffet 1942-1960, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, December 1960-January 1961, pp.189-97; Max Loreau, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet XIV: Célébration du Sol II, Texturologies, Topographies (Paris 1969), No.59, pp.50-1 repr. in colour
Repr: Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet (New York 1962), p.141; Studio International, CLXXIII, 1967, p.126

This is one of the series of 'Texturologies' which occupied Dubuffet at intervals between September 1957 and October 1958. He has described (op. cit., pp.189-94) how this series grew out of his desire to create a cycle of large paintings celebrating the soil. As his original idea was to make these using an assemblage technique, he began by making a number of basic paintings depicting the elements that compose the soil which he could cut up and assemble in different juxtapositions. He wanted to create 'soils' without any specific forms, a vast expanse of soil that could be endlessly extended.

'Certain of these elements, intended for my assemblages, were the result of a special technique which consisted of shaking a brush over the painting spread out on the floor, covering it with a spray of tiny droplets. This is the technique, known as "Tyrolean", that masons use in plastering walls to obtain certain mellowing effects. But instead of brushes, they use little branches of trees - juniper, box, etc. - and they have different ways of shaking them to get the particular effect they want. I combined this technique with others - successive layers, applications of sheets of paper, scattering sand over the painting, scratching it with the prongs of a fork. In this way I produced finely worked sheets that gave the impression of teeming matter, alive and sparkling, which I could use to represent soil, but which could also evoke all kinds of indeterminate textures, and even galaxies and nebulae. But I then decided to keep most of these paintings intact, instead of cutting them up for my assemblages, and gave them the name "Texturologies" ...'.

The first 'Texturologies' I-X were made in Vence in September-December 1957, then the series was resumed in Paris in March 1958. Between then and October 1958, Dubuffet made the further 'Texturologies' XI-LXXIII, the pictures being numbered in the order in which they were completed. The Tate's work, which was one of the last, was executed at Vence on 13 October 1958. The series came to an end later the same month, when Dubuffet destroyed a number of the canvases or cut them up, without however changing the original numbering.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.182-3, reproduced p.182


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