Bernard Buffet was born in Paris in 1928 and studied art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in 1944. By 1947, he had his first exhibition at the Salon des Moins de Trente Ans at the Galerie Beaux-Arts, but the exhibit was not viewed favorably. The following year however, he received the “Prix de la Critique” award from the Paris art critics, establishing himself in the art community and his works become highly sought-after. Also in 1948, the Paris gallery David et Garnier began to show his work annually. His subjects in these early days were comprised of Parisian landscapes and cityscapes, flowers and ships. Bernard Buffet soon became a member of the artist group “L’ homme témoin” and worked in a Neo-Realist style incorporating dark lines, that lend drama to his compositions.
In 1955, he was awarded first prize by the magazine Connaissance des arts that named the 10 best post-war artists. This brought Buffet enormous fame and wealth and he became well known throughout France, Japan and the United States. He was also able to exhibit extensively as a result of the award. By 1958, the Galerie Charpentier holds a retrospective of his work. He is only 30 years old.
During the 1960s however, Buffet’s reputation in France is under attack. It is believed that Picasso became resentful of Bernard Buffet’s instant fame and high regard throughout influential art circles. Picasso began a campaign of slander and denigration within these circles. Another enemy to Buffet was Andre Malraux, who may have been a friend of Picasso and was the Minister of Culture in 1959. Malraux was focused on regaining the position of art center of the world for Paris, since New York had taken away the title years before. Buffet’s work did not fit into his vision. Malraux was interested in promoting the French abstract artists working at the time to accomplish his mission and Buffet’s fame was problematic. However, Bernard Buffet’s work continued to sell well with French collectors and outside of France as well, but his talent was dismissed within the cultural communities of his home country.
By the 1970’s, his situation was beginning to ease somewhat and in 1971, he was named Knight of the Honorary Legion. In 1973, the Bernard-Buffet-Museum opened in Surugadaira, Japan, spearheaded by the collector Kiichiro Okano. The following year he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1978, he was commissioned to design a stamp depicting l’Institut et le Pont des Arts.
In the years to follow, Bernard Buffet was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and eventually was unable to paint. He committed suicide in Tourtour, France where he was living in 1999. He was a prolific painter who created more than 8,000 paintings and whose prints were a common fixture in many homes during the 1960s. He achieved immediate success and fame in a time when Europe was busy picking up the pieces of World War II. He is one of few painters that fell from favor in their home country, but maintained it worldwide throughout their careers. Today, a new generation curators and collectors are viewing Bernard Buffet’s work with open eyes and his status within France’s art establishment is restored. A retrospective of more than 60 canvases was held at the Musée de la Vielle Charité in Marseilles in 2009.