Le Havre, its gigantic port, its beach nestled at the foot of the hill of Sainte-Adresse, these city landscapes by the sea enchant the childhood and adolescence of Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Music too because Marius Dufy, his father, an accountant in a metallurgy company, is also a choir leader and music teacher. At the age of 14, faced with the financial difficulties of the family (he has eight brothers and sisters), Raoul becomes controller in a company importing coffee from Brazil. Facing the port, it has a front row seat to enjoy the spectacle of large vessels from all over the world being loaded and unloaded. Gifted for drawing, the young man followed, in the evening, the lessons of Charles Lhullier, a former pupil of Cabanel and admirer of Ingres. He befriends another student who is also destined for a fine artistic destiny, Othon Friesz. He admires Eugène Boudin and discovers, amazed, Trajan’s Justice of Delacroix at the Rouen museum, ” certainly one of the most violent impressions ” of his life.
A wise artist
Supported by Lhullier, Dufy obtained a scholarship from the municipality of Le Havre to continue his studies at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, where his friend Friesz was already. They share a small accommodation in Montmartre. A pupil of Bonnat, a demanding master who once “trained” Toulouse-Lautrec, Dufy perfected his drawing to the point of using his left hand to temper his virtuosity…
The first works exhibited by Dufy are those of a wise and competent artist, touched by the art of Eugène Boudin. In 1903-1904, he familiarized himself with the Audacity of the Impressionists. If he admires Claude Lorrain, it is Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir who accompany his first years as a painter. In the summer of 1904, he painted in Fécamp with Albert Marquet. At the Salon of 1905, he fell short of Luxe, calme et volupté by Matisse, a pointillist Arcadian landscape irradiated with pure colors. In front of the work, says Dufy, ” impressionist realism lost its charm for me “. The same year, the famous “Cage aux Fauves” at the Salon d’Automne confirmed his arbitrary use of color, as did, the following year, the Gauguin retrospective at the Salon d’Automne where he exhibited for the first time. time. The friend Marquet with whom he paints again on the Normandy coast accompanies him towards Fauvism. It is in this vein that his painting flourished. In 1906, Dufy participated with Braque and Friesz in the first exhibition of the Circle of Modern Art in Le Havre and hung his first exhibition at Berthe Weill.
In the footsteps of Cézanne
In 1908, his stay at L’Estaque with Braque pushed him to structure his compositions. Their mutual admiration for Cézanne guides their search for a new translation of space and volumes. This research will lead Braque to cubism with Picasso. At Dufy, the shapes retain identifiable lines, even in a canvas like Aperitif, whose rhythms in colored circular arcs tend towards abstraction. In his works, the human figure becomes monumental, especially with the theme of bathers and bathers. From 1910, the primitivism of his first woodcuts, which evokes medieval woodcuts, is communicated to his painting: the hatching of the print is invited on the canvas. Seduced by his imagination, the couturier Paul Poiret entrusts him with several decorative works. He creates with him an ephemeral company of printing on fabric. In 1925, the painter will decorate the famous barges of Poiret, Amours, Délices and Orgues. In 1912, Dufy binds for three years to a large Lyon silk house and creates fabric projects. He will resume this activity after the war. During these years of research, Dufy already belongs fully to the avant-garde. His notoriety grew. In Berlin, Herwarth Walden, director of the Der Sturm gallery, exhibits his “Cezanne” works.
Dufy also participated in the great international exhibition of the Armory Show in New York in 1913 and in the Berlin Secession. In 1914, he exhibited at the Salon Mánes in Prague. During the war, he founded the Imagerie Raoul Dufy in Le Havre and distributed patriotic prints.
The “light color”
It was in Vence, in 1919, that his painting acquired its style, recognizable among all, in landscapes with dazzling colors, with musical design all in loops and arabesques. By shifting the black line of the drawing and the solid colors, in an effect reminiscent of popular prints, the artist gives added vitality to his compositions. In 1921, the Bernheim-Jeune gallery offered him his first retrospective. Dufy is now a famous artist, his talent is consecrated. He undertook a long journey in Italy, which took him from Florence to Naples, and to Sicily. He is conquered by the light, the deep blue of the sea, the ancient ruins. He travels to Prague and Vienna.
In 1926, he continued his exploration of the South and discovered Morocco and Spain with Paul Poiret, while waiting for Algeria in 1934. During the interwar period, he made numerous stays on the Côte d’Azur. In Nice, the Baie des Anges is one of his favorite motifs. In his Moroccan watercolors, the color, light, is applied with a wide brush, then comes the drawing, nervous, spiritual, of an extreme virtuosity under its apparent naivety. This transparency of the “color of light”, associated with a vibrating graphic design, is transposed in the paintings painted in oil. The intense blue of the Mediterranean is communicated to his works painted on the Normandy coast. Approached as early as 1907, the theme of regattas, with their flagged sailboats, gave rise to brilliant variations in the 1930s. Trained by Poiret on the racetracks, he observed with no less interest the horses galloping on the track than the elegant crowd that thronged the tender green lawn. Counterpoint to these scenes of life in the open air, the theme of the painter’s studio, often associated with the naked model, is the subject of infinite variations.
A born decorator
From 1934, the use of the medium developed by the chemist Jacques Maroger to dilute the pigments allows him to increase the luminous transparency effect of his painting. This is the technique adopted for The Electricity Fairy, an immense composition intended for the Electricity pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition. Despite the gigantism, the impulsive freshness of his art remains intact. A born decorator, Dufy designed the sets and costumes for the Beef on the roof by Jean Cocteau, with music by Darius Milhaud (1920), as well as several sets for opera and ballet. In addition to his activity as a fabric designer, Dufy took an interest in tapestry, created many woven cartoons at the Beauvais or Aubusson factories, collaborated with Jean Lurçat in 1941. With the potter Josep Llorens Artigas, whom he met in 1922, he produced also an important ceramic work. This overflowing activity in the field of decorative arts is in his eyes the natural extension of his activity as a painter. When he is reproached for his painting ” decorative “, he answers : ” That does not bother me. How to prevent paint from being decorative? This is his goal. A refugee in Nice in 1940, Dufy moved to Perpignan then, in 1952, to Forcalquier. The dry climate relieved the disease with which he was afflicted, a painful chronic polyarthritis. Entering early in his life, music made his final work vibrate, with the series of Orchestra and tributes to great composers, Bach, Mozart, Debussy. A musical end for the most musical of painters.
Exhibition “Raoul Dufy, the intoxication of color”
Hôtel de Caumont – art center
3 Rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100 Aix-en-Provence
From May 6 to September 18