Bernard Buffet, 71, one of France's most prolific and successful postwar artists who was more popular abroad than he was in his native country, died Oct. 4 at his home in southern France. Police said his death was a suicide.

He was found dead by his wife, Annabel, in the hallway leading to his workshop, a plastic bag over his head, said police sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The couple had lived at La Domaine de la Baume, a dwelling in the Var region.

Gallery owner Maurice Garnier, who had worked with Mr. Buffet for 51 years, said the artist had Parkinson's disease and had been unable to work for some time.

Mr. Buffet, a millionaire who had basked in fame since he was 20 years old, was France's most prolific contemporary artist. He was an outspoken advocate of figurative painting at a time when abstraction was the rage, and he remained faithful to the distinctive, black vertical brush stroke he used to re-create emaciated faces, imperial Russian palaces and sad-faced clowns.

Mr. Buffet was roundly ignored by the French art establishment. The Georges Pompidou Center, France's most prestigious collection of modern and contemporary art, never purchased any of his work.

Yet, Mr. Buffet was a superstar abroad, the subject of two separate museums in Japan, one featuring more than 600 of his works. In Italy, he was virtually a household name. The Vatican Museum devoted an entire room to one of his works. In 1991, he became the first living artist to have a retrospective at Russia's Hermitage and Pushkin museums.

Mr. Buffet, who was born in Paris, studied at the Academie des Beaux Arts. Private collectors have been snapping up his still lifes, cityscapes and portraits ever since he burst onto the scene in 1946 with a self-portrait.

A year later he received the Critics' Prize--one of France's top art awards--with a series marked by the rigid forms and austere tones that became his controversial trademark.

For years, Mr. Buffet averaged one major show a year, usually devoted to a single subject: the circus, New York, birds, churches or portraits of his wife.

Word of his death brought accolades from French leaders. French President Jacques Chirac called him "a great painter of our times," while Prime Minister Lionel Jospin praised Mr. Buffet as a man who had portrayed the sufferings of France as it emerged from the dark years of World War II. French Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann said France lost "one of the great names in French painting of this second half of the century."