In 1939, art collector Josef Müller acquired seven -anonymous sculptures representing stylized faces. Nothing else has ever been revealed about them; the artist remains unknown and their dating is only deemed “recent.” At best, their origin is supposed to be French, perhaps from Burgundy or Auvergne judging by the stones. These works quickly attracted the attention of leading figures from the art world, such as art collector and author Henri-Pierre Roché, gallerist Charles Ratton, and most of all Jean Dubuffet. As these faces are often wearing beards and moustaches, they -became associated with this feature and the name of their discoverer to become the “Barbus [Bearded] Müller.”
In 1946, Dubuffet entitled the first issue of his Fascicule de l’art brut “The Barbus Müller and other works from provincial statuary.” The issue was printed by French publishing house Gallimard but was never distributed. The following year, the “Barbus Müller” were at the center of an exhibition at the Foyer de l’Art Brut, Place Vendôme in Paris, in the basement of gallery Drouin where Dubuffet later showed his works. The collection and promotion of art brut undertaken by the painter over the next four decades of course greatly informed his own pictorial research.
These singular sculptures are therefore at the crossroads between "art brut"—this important alternative movement to the so-called “official” art history of the second half of the 20th century—and “primitive art,” collected by Müller and which influenced the avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century. They now belong to the collection of the museum founded by Josef Müller’s son-in-law, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller. The latter also collected tribal art. By adding his collection to that of his father-in-law, he created a coherent and comprehensive ensemble whose conservation and exhibition is today entrusted to the Barbier-Mueller Museum.
Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller died on the 22nd December 2016. Exhibiting these works, in the context of the museum’s 40th anniversary, allowed us to pay tribute to his memory.
- Exhibition organized in collaboration with the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva