$8 Million Worth of Jean Dubuffet Works Head to Sotheby’s

The auction of works from the Mary and George Bloch collection follows a successful spate of single-owner sales.

Jean Dubuffet, Le Guilleret (1964). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

A collection of 17 paintings by Jean Dubuffet will hit the auction block in a single-owner sale series at Sotheby’s spanning London and Paris this spring. The works by the French artist, which have a combined fees-free presale estimate of $6.2 million to $8.8 million, came directly from the private collection of Mary and George Bloch, who acquired them over the course of three decades, from 1960s to the 1980s.

The trove of Dubuffet works surfacing on the market follow the house’s record year of single-owner sales in 2023, including the collections of Freddie Mercury and Emily Fischer Landau, both of which were sold in a standalone format and as single-owner sections in marquee sales.

“There continues to be a huge demand and fascination for works that come fresh to the market from revered collections,” Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and worldwide head of Impressionist and modern art, told Artnet News. “In many ways, a collection provides a window into an era, or shines a light on the particular tastes of a figure, which can truly captivate collectors and audiences, as was particularly evident last year.”

Mary and George Bloch. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Mary and George Bloch. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The works included in the collection span five of Dubuffet’s most notable series, and were once hung in the Blochs’ residences in London and Hong Kong. They will be offered across four sales: Three will go on sale at the modern and contemporary art evening sale in London on March 6, and eight at the day sale on March 7. Another three works will be offered at a Paris evening sale on April 23 and three at an online day sale running from April 17 to 24. An exhibition of the collection will take place at Sotheby’s London from February 28 to March 6.

The most valuable lots will be offered at the London evening sale. The top lot is Le Guilleret (1961), which has a presale estimate of between £2 million and £3 million ($2.5 million to $3.8 million). The work, acquired by the Blochs in 1985, is one of the earliest works from the Paris Circus series, which was said to have been inspired by a bus journey through the French capital in early 1961 during the artist’s first lengthy stay in the city in six years. As suggested by the painting’s title, the work depicts a lively, cheerful figure against a backdrop of bright colors. It is said to be inspired by the vibrancy of the city life of Paris—a stark contrast from a much darker tone and earthy palette seen in his works from the previous decade.

Jean Dubuffet, Le Retour du soldat, est. £1.2-1.8m

Jean Dubuffet, Le Retour du soldat(1964). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another work featured at the London evening sale is Le retour du soldat (The Return of the Soldier) (1964), which has a presale estimate of £1.2 million to £1.8 million ($1.5 million to $2.3 million). The work comes from Dubuffet’s L’Hourloupe series, a title the artist came up that plays on the French phrases entourloupe (to play a kind of trick), hurler (to roar), hululer (to hoot), and loup (a male wolf). It was a 12-year-long project that began accidentally in 1962 when he was doodling on scraps of paper in black, blue, and red ballpoint pens while chatting with a friend on a phone call. The work has been in the Blochs’ collection since 1988.

The colorful 1980 painting, Zône habitée, which means “inhabited zones,” from the Partitions series, is the third work to be offered at the London evening sale, with a presale estimate of £450,000 to £650,000 ($567,126 to $819,182).

These Dubuffet paintings reflect the Bloch’s colorful collecting trajectory over the course of three decades, noted Newman. George, who died in 2009, was born in the 1920s in Vienna into a family of Austrian industrialists. He was educated in England and moved to Shanghai in the late 1930s. He married Mary, who was born in China’s Harbin, in 1969. Mary Bloch became a member of Peggy Guggenheim advisory board in Venice later in life.

Jean Dubuffet, Zône habitée, est. £450,000-650,000

Jean Dubuffet, Zône habitée (1980). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Their passion for art and culture turned into collecting. It is uncertain how big the couple’s entire collection was at its peak but among their most celebrated collections was their trove of exquisite snuff bottles, auctioned in 10 white glove sales from 2010 to 2015 in at Bonhams and Sotheby’s Hong Kong—the most valuable collection of its kind. The sale of their collection of Chinese works of art in 2005 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong totaled $8.4 million.

“A lof of the Dubuffets here were created in the 1980s and acquired by Mary and George shortly after. Their taste, in many ways, was completely contemporary. They were brave and collected in depth, which shows a huge commitment for the art they liked and what they believed in,” noted Marina Ruiz Colomer, Sotheby’s head of middle market sales, contemporary art.

The Blochs acquired the Dubuffet paintings from Waddington Galleries (now Waddington Custot) in London, and the couple developed a close friendship with dealer Leslie Waddington, with whom they met regularly in London, Hong Kong, and Italy.

“I find it impossible to summon the words to truly describe Dubuffet. Instead, I can only recall how it felt seeing these works for the first time. It was love at first sight. There is no other explanation,” Mary Bloch said in a statement. “I remember George and I having to make a really difficult decision between buying a Dubuffet and something else. In the end, though, we chose Dubuffet. There is something so magical about his work.”

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