Jean Dubuffet, the French painter and sculptor who saw his art as a celebration of the primitive, died Sunday in Paris of emphysema. He was 83.
Considered by many as the most important artist to emerge from France at the end of World War II, Dubuffet focused his work in recent years on paintings, drawings and giant abstract forms that exhibit a childlike simplicity.
Among these are a 42-foot-high sculpture entitled "Group of Four Trees," commissioned for Chase Manhattan Plaza in 1972 by David Rockefeller to celebrate his 25th anniversary on Wall Street, and the 29-foot-tall "Monument With Standing Beast" installed last year at the new State of Illinois Building in Chicago.
Dubuffet reveled in simplicity and believed that the untrained vision is the unhampered vision.
" Art should . . . be stripped of all the tinsel, laurels and buskins . . . and be seen naked with all the creases of its belly," he once said in an interview. "Once disencumbered, it will doubtless begin again to . . . dance and yell like a madman, which is its function, and stop putting on preposterous airs from its professor's chair."
Born inLe Havre July 31, 1901, to a wine and liquor merchant and his wife, Dubuffet spent the first half of his life alternating between the world of art and that of commerce.
He left home at 17 to paint in Paris, and, living alone in miserable quarters in the Montparnasse section of the city, he spent much of his time studying the classics, music and languages. He also studied briefly at the Academie Julian.
Convinced that his work was merely imitating that of his friends Raoul Dufy and Fernand Leger, he stopped painting in his early twenties and traveled to Italy and Brazil. In 1925, he returned to Le Havre to study commerce, and five years later opened a wholesale wine business in Paris.
In 1933, he put an associate in charge of the wine business and moved to cheap lodgings on the Left Bank, where he entertained artists extensively.
Dubuffet reassumed control of the then-failing business in 1937 and ran it until 1939. He served briefly in the Army, then opened another wine business but abandoned it in 1942, the year most critics consider the beginning of his art career.
He experimented widely in his painting, and his first exhibition in Paris was in 1944, followed three years later by a show in New York. In the late 1940s, Dubuffet traveled widely in North Africa.
At the time of his first retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962, art critic Clement Greenberg called Dubuffet "the most original painter to have come out of the School of Paris since Miro."
Many of Dubuffet's recent works have sparked controversy, perhaps most notably a creation that was to be the artist's largest: a 120-by-180-foot plastic-and-concrete park for the courtyard of the French-owned Renault automobile company.
When it was half-built, the company ran out of funds for it and stopped work in 1975. Dubuffet, who considered the work the biggest monumental sculpture since the Eiffel Tower, called the move an "outrage."
A four-year court battle ensued, during which the work was buried to save it from destruction. In 1981 a court ordered the company to dig it up and allow Dubuffet to finish it.