A Buyer’s Guide to Bernard Buffet

Bernard Buffet, VAT 69 still life Bernard Buffet, VAT 69. Est: ¥600,000 - ¥800,000 via Est-Ouest Auctions Co.,Ltd (November 2010).

French artist, Bernard Buffet, was a unique artistic voice of the twentieth century who argued against trendy abstraction to develop a powerful array of paintings and prints. His innovative style melded elements of modern aesthetics with graphic simplicity through rich linework and subdued color in an effort to convey a new postwar reality. In so doing, Buffet developed an immense following among collectors that is still alive and well today.

Bernard Buffet’s life

Buffet was born in Paris in 1928; during his youth he endured the struggles of World War II, which some have suggested contributed to his sober artistic style. Despite this wartime chaos, Buffet was fortunate to study at the acclaimed École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (France’s national school for fine arts) as a young man. It was there that Buffet began to build a network of artistic colleagues who both inspired and nurtured his artistic development. Their support contributed to his rapid artistic development. From 1950 onward, Buffet was the featured artist in major exhibitions. These included the first retrospective of his career in 1958 (when Buffet was still a fresh 30 years old). His success was due in part to his ability to communicate visually intense sensations to an audience grappling with a post-war world. 

Bernard Buffet still life with games

Bernard Buffet. Est: $50,000 – $70,000 via Doyle New York (April 2001).

Bernard Buffet’s style

By the time of his first retrospective, Buffet had solidified an artistic style divergent from his contemporaries. Likened in some ways to the work of Pablo Picasso, Buffet simplified form in many of his paintings. But he tempered the simplicity with a grounding in reality and representation. His compositions employed bold, dark lines that were often accentuated by muted colors to underscore the representation of form. The bold contours that defined many Bernard Buffet paintings serve to remind to the viewer that he abhorred abstraction – so much so that he was an advocate for the anti-abstraction artist group, L’Homme Témoin (The Witness-Man).

Bernard Buffet, Le Grand Canal de Venice

Bernard Buffet, Le Grand Canal de Venice, 1979. Est: TWD250,000 – TWD400,000 via Zhong Cheng Auction Co. Ltd. (October 2021).

The Artist’s legacy

Bernard Buffet’s art suffered a brief dip in popularity in the closing decades of the twentieth century. This decline could have been due to his ongoing reluctance to bend to the trend toward increasingly abstract art. Another factor could have been his decadent lifestyle, earned through his profits as an artist, which felt contradictory of the somber feeling evoked by his paintings. While sales of Bernard Buffet paintings might have waned during this period, Buffet’s iconic status was nevertheless secure. 

In 1973, he earned the illustrious title of Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, one of France’s top honors for those in the arts. That same year, a museum founded in his honor opened outside Tokyo, Japan. Established by Kiichiro Okano, one of the world’s most prominent collectors of Buffet’s art, the museum boasts a collection of more than 2,000 works by Buffet. This was not the only space dedicated to Buffet’s incredibly vast catalog of work. French art dealer Maurice Garnier also devoted his gallery to exhibiting only Buffet works from 1977 onward. 

Following his death in 1999, Buffet has enjoyed a resurgence in international popularity, with ever higher auction prices reached for his art. Paris’ Musée d’Arte Moderne celebrated Buffet’s career with an impressive retrospective in late 2016, only months after his 1991 painting, Les Clowns Musiciens, Le Saxophoniste, sold via Christie’s for £1,022,5000. That same year, Nick Foulkes published Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist (Preface Publishing), one of the most comprehensive biographies of the late artist to date and yet another reminder that the allure of Bernard Buffet art is remains strong.

Bernard Buffet’s art at auction

Bernard Buffet’s significant body of work – which by most counts numbers around 8,000 finished pieces – can be subdivided generally into four main categories: still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and the circus. These works vary in price substantially, depending on market, condition, and subject, but they all share Buffet’s striking compositional style. Here are some exceptional examples of Bernard Buffet paintings in each of these categories:

Still Lifes




Embracing Bernard Buffet’s art

Investing in a Bernard Buffet painting means becoming a collector of an artist whose unwavering dedication to his style in the face of modernism’s pressures underscored his commitment to his own artistic credo.

For those who feel original Bernard Buffet paintings like these might be a bit out of budget, it is important to note that Bernard Buffet prints are also readily available on the auction market today at lower price points.