Bernard Buffet (1928–99) is the only artist I have ever envied, and that was at a time when I was wavering over becoming one myself. We were born in the same year and we were both educated by the Jesuits, who at that time still encouraged vaulting ambition. He got himself expelled from the smart Lycée Carnot in Paris and then did the sensible thing and acquired a sound professional training at the city’s Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. By contrast, I spent three years at Oxford and two in the army, emerging as a BA and a captain, both useless for any practical purpose. By the time I took up my first job in January 1952, as a junior executive in a French publishing group, Buffet had made the big time.
He seems to have taken a conscious decision to reject abstraction and become a figurative painter. He quickly developed a subdued personal palette of greys, greens and browns. His figures were characterised by a spiky linear outline that was instantly recognisable and that he retained until his death half a