Jean Dufy was born in Le Havre, the great seaport on the northwest coast of France on March 12, 1888. A family of nine children, the Dufy’s were comparatively poor. However, this did not prevent them from pursuing artist endeavors, and the whole family loved art and music.
Jean’s brother, Raoul, eleven years older than him, studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Le Havre. When he was the same age, the younger boy followed in his brother’s footsteps, also enrolling in the Beaux-Arts of Le Havre. Inevitably, after his studies in Le Havre, Jean went to Paris to study under Othon Friesz. Raoul had already been in Paris for some time, becoming close acquaintances with many big artists of the day. While Jean’s association with the same artists was primarily as a student, he gradually won the friendship of these older artists.
One shadow fell over these artistic friendships, a shadow that darkened the relationship between the two brothers, Raoul and Jean. Raoul had been commissioned to produce an immense mural, nearly 200 feet long and 32 feet high, for the Palace of Electricity at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. He enlisted the aid of his brother Jean and that of André Robert. The mural consisted of a series of panels depicting a lively, overall survey of the role of electricity in our lives. In spite of its size, within two weeks after the preliminary research, groundwork and designs had been completed, the entire painting was executed. It seems that Jean played a very large part in the projection of this immense painting, so much so that he felt he should receive equal credit for it with Raoul. Instead, Raoul received all the acclaim for it when the World’s Fair opened. Wounded and, perhaps, somewhat embittered by this experience, Jean withdrew from the Paris art scene and went to live quietly with his wife in the region of the Loire, one of the most serene and beautiful areas of France.
Though he was a member of the Salon d’Automne and exhibited periodically in it, from this time on Jean Dufy remained aloof, working alone, shunning contact with other artists. However, he lived joyously, and continued to work on his passion – his art. He and his wife made long trips to Paris and the coasts of France, to Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark. Wherever he went, his keen eye and retentive memory absorbed all he saw, and pencil sketches, pen and ink drawing, gouaches and oils resulted, all filled with his own exuberant wit and delight in the variety of the world’s beauty and men’s activities.
In his watercolors, gouaches, and oils, the eye is caught at once by his brilliant color, his daring juxtaposition of slashing strokes of flashing tones of color, his free handling of startling shades. The surface ease with which he handled paints concealed the firm, strong composition underlying all his work. To study his pencil sketches or pen and ink drawings is a revelation, for in them one becomes aware of the masterly draftsmanship, the crisp calligraphic manner, and the absolutely controlled drawing underlying all his paintings.
These qualities are visible in all Jean Dufy drew or painted, and his range of subjects was wide. Scenes of Paris; circus life; the sea, ships, and harbors; flowers; race tracks; concerts, still lifes, landscapes; occasional farm scenes; hunting scenes; riders in the Bois de Boulogne – all took on an individual, distinctive life, and vivacity under his brush.