Buffet was born in Paris, France, and was a prolific painter and printmaker. Highly precocious, he began his formal training and had his first solo show in Paris when he was just 19.
During his lifetime, he garnered widespread popularity and acclaim, including international exhibitions and honors. He was awarded the Prix de la Critique at 20 years old and was named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1973. At the request of the French postal administration in 1978, he designed a stamp and the Post Museum arranged a retrospective of his works.
Best known for his representational work, Buffet's paintings are often graphic and figurative. He often revisited themes of art history, death, sexuality, and popular culture. He developed over the years a distinctive style of elongated, spiky forms; somber colors; flattened spaces; and an overall mood of loneliness and despair.
After a long love affair with Pierre Bergé ended, Buffet married the writer and actress Annabel Schwob. They adopted three children.
In 1999, Buffet committed suicide at his home in southern France. He’d been suffering from Parkinson's disease and was no longer able to work.
Today, Buffet’s work can be found in several public collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou; the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris; the National Museum of Western Art Tokyo; the Tate Gallery, London; and Fisher Art Museum in Marshalltown, Iowa. A museum in Japan is devoted to his work.