Bernard Buffet: an artist as popular as he was unloved

Bernard Buffet is a French painter who produced more than 8,000 works during his career. The artist has had a rather special destiny. He rose to fame at an early age, but he was soon caught up in the whirlwind of celebrity. Bernard Buffet's career was not always a happy one.

Biography of the artist

Buffet is one of the greatest contemporary expressionist painters of his time. The son of Charles and Blanche Buffet, he was born in Paris in 1928. In 1943, at the age of 15, he entered the National School of Fine Arts “École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts”. He spent two years in the studio of the painter Eugène Narbonne. The artist exhibited his first painting, a self-portrait, at the Salon des moins de trente ans at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in 1946. His paintings are composed of characters, animals, still life descriptions, landscapes, figures of all kinds, flowers and many others. A watercolourist, Bernard Buffet was also an illustrator and a painter of theatre sets. He produced many works that made him famous, such as the Bernard Buffet Clown paintings. 

Early fame

In 1947, Bernard Buffet exhibited “L'Homme accoudé” at the Salon des indépendants and his first private exhibition took place in December in the same year. His work “Nature morte au poulet” (Still life with chicken) was bought by the French State for the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. In 1948, he presented his painting “Le Buveur” to the “Prix de la jeune peinture”, organised at the Galerie Drouant-David. Unfortunately, he did not win the prize, but his painting “Deux Hommes dans une chamber” won the Prix de la critique. After that, Emmanuel David offered him an exclusive contract to join his gallery. In 1952, the painter was awarded the Antral Prize and in 1955, he won first place among the ten best post-war painters in a referendum organised by the magazine “Connaissance des arts”. Hundreds of thousands of Bernard Buffet Clown paintings were printed worldwide.

A fall from grace in the face of controversy

In France, in the 1950s, being on the cover of Paris Match was considered unseemly, even vulgar, for a painter, especially in view of his millionaire dandy lifestyle rather than his works. From then on, in the eyes of the critics, who confined the painter to his Bernard Buffet Clown works and the bouquets of coals that they reproached him for producing en masse, the young artist became morally suspect. Figurative painting came to an end in 1958 and Buffet was to pay the price, considered a victim of "underhand censorship". However, he did not stop painting for all that and produced at least a hundred paintings a year until his death in 1999.
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