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Friday, December 24, 2010

Raoul Dufy

At least since artists began to paint on canvas, some sort of preliminary drawing, probably in pencil or charcoal, has usually preceded the actual application of paint to canvas. The aim has always been to delineate where to put the paint. Sometimes this drawing has been highly detailed, very nearly like finished works of art in and of themselves. In other cases, the barest suggestion of composition and tonalities has sufficed. Some artists have even rendered these canvas sketches with paint rather than a dry medium. But always, by definition, a preliminary drawing came before  the paint. Well, almost always.  The work of Raoul Dufy proved the exception.

Dufy (pronounced doo-FEE) was born in Le Havre in 1877. By the turn of the century when he began to study art in Paris, the oppressive reign of academic Realism was at an end, Impressionism was passe` and le Fauves were outraging the art world with their "irresponsible" use of color. The late, great, Vincent Van Gogh was in his ascendency, as were Cezanne and Gauguin. Monet still clung tenaciously to Impression, and Picasso was struggling in obscurity to find some avenue to greatness.  It was in this setting that Dufy's light-hearted style was also seeking to assert itself.  But even though he was almost the same age as his friend, Picasso, Dufy did not find the same kind of overnight success as did the upstart Spaniard.  It was not until after WW I that his star began to shine.

Regatta at Cowes, 1934, Raol Dufy
Though influenced by the Fauves, the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionist, and even Cubism to some extent, Dufy's work was none of these. In fact it more nearly resembled a sort of delightfully whimsical calligraphy than any existing style of painting. He had a style all his own. Except that the term sounds rather silly, we might call it Dufyism. Basically, he painted first and drew later. Like the Impressionists, he first established vague color masses, something on the order of an out-of-focus color photo. Then, with a light touch, and paint (either watercolor or oils) of a thin, "inky" consistency, he would next establish drawn details--buildings, trees, hillls, a shoreline, and whatever else the scene demanded.  He used a similar technique with still-lives, even the occassional portrait. Try it sometime. Don't paint over that beautiful drawing, draw over that beautiful painting.


  1. Lovely paintings, thank you!
    We are also big fans of Raoul Dufy, but just recently came across his brother Jean's work, have you seen it? Was it ignored because it was similar?
    More here about their tricky relationship and some pics.

  2. Normandy--

    Jean Dufy wasn't ignored. I didn't even know Raoul HAD a brother, much less that he was an artist. Thanks for brining him to my attention. I checked out the web site you mentioned above, and as you suggest, their work is remarkably similar. I'll keep him in mind for the future. Had I known back in December, 2010, I would probably have written them up as a duo. At the time I was recycling and updating old items written for an earlier mailing list some ten years earlier rather than doing the more in-depth pieces I do now. Thanks again for your comments. Click on subscribe to keep abreast of my articles in the future.--Jim