“Dufy is a pleasure”, said Gertrude Stein, reducing to three words all that people have said about Dufy and, in essence, what Raoul Dufy said about himself. For in all of Dufy’s art there is a charm, spontaneity, a grace and a joie de vivre that refuses the ugly, the sordid, the sad.
Raoul Dufy was born in 1877 in Le Havre and was one of the eldest of nine children. Despite his father being a man of modest means, Dufy was forced to cut his education short in order to learn a trade. However, he managed to squeeze in art classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Artes of Le Havre under the tutelage of Charles Lhullier who, to teach his students the importance of good draftsmanship, refused to let them use color – the element which became such a vital part of Dufy’s art. His artistic studies would inspire his younger brother, Jean, to pursue art as well, who likewise enrolled in the Beaux-Arts of Le Havre, and eventually followed Raoul to Paris.
In 1900, after a year of military service, and thanks to a scholarship, Dufy was able to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he imbued himself with the art of the Impressionists and later with that of the fauves whose movement he joined; their use of bold color and strong design suited his own inclinations. In 1906 he had his first one-man show, and then, through his friendship with George Braque, he fell temporarily under the influence of the Cubists whose emphasis on structure, analysis and synthesis sobered the explosive quality of his art.
In about 1910, Dufy began to work in other artistic mediums, illustrating books, producing prints, and designing textiles for a famous silk manufacturer, all of which strengthened his feeling for color and free design. He also designed stage sets and tapestries and began working in ceramics. But it was during the 1920’s that the Raoul Dufy whom we all know came into being. His inborn serenity and natural gaiety expressed themselves in oils and watercolors of people enjoying themselves – on the seashore, at the racetrack, in a garden – or in scenes from surroundings in which he reveled – ports of Normandy, landscapes of southern France, the stage of a concert hall. Using rapid, curving brushstrokes which permitted him to capture the spontaneity of the movement and vivid light-filled colors, which in their enthusiasm, leapt over the dark outlines of an object. Dufy poured forth his view of life, which bespoke beauty, optimism, pleasure and happiness.
In the 1930’s Raoul Dufy began exhibiting often and winning prizes. His works now hang in museums the world over. His first trip to the United States occurred in 1937, and he returned again in 1950. By then he was already severely crippled by arthritis, but undaunted, he continued painting, turning out numerous water colors of American scenes – from New England to Arizona – during his months here. Then he returned to the South of France where the brilliance and color of life inspired him until his death on March 23, 1953.