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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Raoul Dufy

Raoul Dufy Self-portrait, ca. 1900
When we think of famous artists, we tend to view them exclusively as artists. When we think of ourselves as artists, even though our art might be a very important part of our lives, we look at it as merely "a part of our lives." This is a very nearsighted view. Very many famous artists had "day jobs" and families, and hobbies or non-art interests which we seldom consider. In other words, they had "lives." Many of them only managed to support themselves with their art very late in their lives...and some never did. One who did, but just barely, was Raoul Dufy (pronounced doo-FEE). He worked at various times as a truck driver, wallpaper designer, ceramic painter, and textile painter to support his art. Add to that, as a Frenchman, he lived through two world wars both of which played havoc with the art world within which he struggled to live.

Beach Sainte Adresses, 1906, Raoul Dufy
Dufy was born in 1877 in Le Havre on the Normandie coast of France. At the age of fifteen he was enrolled in the local arts school where he met another future art great, Georges Braque. Monet was often in and around Le Havre about this time. It may never have happened, but one can picture the two teenagers avidly watching over the shoulder of the great Impressionist as he lavished paint upon canvas in capturing the shimmering Beach of Ste. Adresses (right) which Dufy also painted. Coming of age when he did, he couldn't not have helped but become captivated by the Impressionist, even as he studied for a time at the Ecole des Beaux-arts. It was there he apparently picked up his superbly effortless draftsmanship that was to give his work it's firm grounding in reality, if not Realism. But it was the glowing colors of the Impressionists which dominated his art for the early years of his life until 1905.

Ceres au bord de la mer, 1928, Raoul Dufy
1905 was the year of the first Fauvist exhibition when Dufy met Matisse and Vlaminck and the other Fauves. He fell in love with their wildly unrealistic palettes and despite a somewhat cool reception on their part to the 28-year-old upstart, from that point on, Dufy was a Fauvist. A year later, he demanded through his dealer, Berthe Weill, to exhibit with them. Reluctantly, they agreed, provided his work be segregated in a separate room. The following year, apparently impressed with his persistence, if nothing else, they welcomed him into their midst even as Fauvism was beginning to fade in favor of more abstracted art elements.

Open Window, 1928, Raoul Dufy
Dufy was influenced by Cubism and tinkered with it through the 1920s before refining his own personal, rather lighthearted style of essentially painting first and drawing later. Being a devoted colorist, he gravitated to the South of France where the colors were most intense. He came to love the window, painting interior scenes wherein the viewer is invited beyond the walls into the juxtaposed world of color beyond them. His glamorous views of Nice are perhaps his most remembered work (as seen below)though his oeuvre also includes nudes, musical instruments, street scenes, and strangely, black freighters. In fact, his use of black, seemingly at odds with everything impressionistic and fauvist both, is often cited as having influenced the generation of Abstract Expressionists just starting to make their marks when he died in 1953.

The Bay of Angels, 1929, Raoul Dufy

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