A Widow

Dubuffet, Jean

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Aug-15-2006


An abstract rendering of a widow fills the frame of the painting. Gloriously and erratically colored, she sits confidently upon a chair and looks directly outwards at the viewer. Behind the suggestion of a veil--the vertical lines descending from her head might also be interpreted as hair--she cocks her head and holds an expression upon her face that is difficult to discern. Is she sad? Is she bored? Does she desire a new companion?

Dubuffet has accentuated the widow's most feminine attributes: her breasts, hips, and eyes are exaggeratedly large, while her waist is too small, as though confined by the most constricting of corsets. The bright colors of the painting suggest anything but sorrow; instead, like a beautiful bird that attracts a mate with its colorful plumage, this widow seems ready to begin a new affair.


Dubuffet was greatly interested and influenced by the art of amateur artists. He coined the term Art Brut to describe artwork produced by mental patients, prisoners, and children. Dubuffet valued these artists' disregard for intellectual concerns, and what he believed to be their consequent unfettered expression of raw emotion.

"A Widow" invites the viewer to confront the morality of a woman desiring to be reattached to a lover soon after the death of her husband. Is there something wrong or evil with seeking sexual consolation after the death of a spouse? What is an acceptable waiting period after one's lover's death before a widow or widower may seek a new lover? What is the role of sexuality in the grieving process? A marvelous companion piece would be Langston Hughes's tongue in cheek poem, "Widow Woman": "I don't want nobody else / And don't nobody else want me // Yet you never can tell when a / Woman like me is free" [p. 204 in anthology, Trials, Tribulations, and Celebrations: African American Perspectives on Health, Illness, Aging and Loss --see this database).]


Painted in 1943

Primary Source

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York