Raoul Dufy French, 1877-1953


Raoul Dufy was a French painter, draftsman and printmaker who, for a time, participated in Fauvist modes of representation. His style drew inspiration from the artists Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet, though he also closely studied the work of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse. Characteristically, Dufy’s compositions were colourful, bold, and decorative; they frequently depicted open-air social events, leisure activities and urban landscapes.


At eighteen years old, Dufy studied in Le Havre – his home town – at the École des Beaux-Arts (municipal art school), later winning a scholarship to study at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Here, he crossed paths with Othon Friesz and studied under Léon Bonnat. By 1901, the artist had showcased works at the Exhibition of French Artists. Although Dufy’s early work was stylistically Impressionist, after seeing Matisse’s Luxe, calme et volupté in 1905 – what he called, ‘this miracle of creative imagination in colour and line’ – he began to paint in a Fauvist style.


By 1920 however, this had evolved through Dufy’s engagement with the work of Cézanne and Pablo Picasso, whereby his compositions became flatter, almost deconstructed. Travelling abroad and within France, the artist painted series of Nice (1927) and Bois de Boulogne (1929). By the mid-1920s, Dufy had achieved significant success also as a commercial artist and illustrator. Throughout the decade, Dufy’s work was included in books written by Guillaume Apollinaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. With an invested interest in decorative arts and with commercial success, Dufy set up a cloth-printing studio. At this time, he also produced murals for public buildings and a large number of tapestries and ceramic designs.


We can see Dufy’s sustained interest in how best to convey light through colour as particularly manifest in his later series of works depicting horse races, specifically Races at Ascot (1931) and Derby at Epsom (1939). In these watercolours, Dufy exemplifies his typical inclination to sketch outlines set against distinct, thin layers of brightly coloured paint. These paintings showcased an idiosyncratic, looser, and naïve style, where Dufy employed rapid motion which has been likened to stenographic notation. Later in life, due to the artist’s rheumatoid arthritis, Dufy’s style changed, and he began to fasten the paintbrush to his hand. In 1952, a year before the artist’s death, Dufy received the International Grand Prix for painting at the 26th Venice Biennale.


Dufy’s works are included in numerous collections, such as Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Gallery, London; Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg; Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle.