15 Raoul Dufy ★

Self-portrait in a hat. 1898

Raoul-Ernest-Joseph Dufy was born at Le Havre on June 3, 1877. The Dufy family with their artistic and especially musical interests undoubtedly contributed to an early awareness of Raoul’s creative vocation. His father, an employee of a small metalworks, played the organ at the church and led the choir. Raoul’s brothers were also to devote their lives to art: Jean would follow in the footsteps of his elder brother and become a painter, Leon – an organist at Le Havre, and Gaston – a well-known flutist and publisher of a musical journal in Paris. Raoul’s works would yet provide numerous reminders of the music that was the dominant theme of his childhood. Raoul also had five sisters, and the Dufys staged family dramatic performances.

Since the family was so large, Raoul became independent at an early age: at 14 he, the eldest of the Dufy children, left St Joseph’s College to earn a living. He found himself on the Havre wharves, among stevedores. He found a job at a company importing Brazilian coffee and worked there for five years.

It was at the time he worked at the port that Raoul firmly made up his mind to become a painter. His father was not against his plans, but the young man had to work to pay his way. Just one year after he had joined the company of the Swiss businessmen Luthy and Hauser, in 1892, Dufy began to take evening classes at the municipal school of fine arts. He studied together with Othon Friesz and Georges Braque under the portrait painter Charles Lhullier, a fan of Ingres and Corot. Lhullier disliked “lame” painting and did not discourage young artists in their quests, for which fine arts department inspectors often accused him of “heresy.”

22 Raoul Dufy ★

La Plage de Sainte-Andresse, 1901

Raoul’s closest friend among Lhullier’s pupils was Othon Friesz. The two put their scant funds together, rented a small room and turned it into a studio. Both shared an interest in genre painting and produced landscapes of their home city and the Havre port with its wharves and nearby houses.

In 1898 Raoul was called up for military service but, fortunately, spent just one year in the ranks. In 1900 the Havre municipality granted him a scholarship of 600 francs per year to continue his art studies in Paris; three years earlier his friend Friesz had obtained a similar scholarship.

The tutor of Dufy’s class was Leon Bonnat, a recognized maitre of European academism. He took a dislike to Raoul’s interests in art and disapproved of his tendency to use light and clean colors. Shortly their relationship soured to such an extent that Raoul began to show his works to the professor as rarely as possible. In this situation Raoul could not hope for participation in the contest for the Prix de Rome, which was awarded to one of the favorites diligently copying the manner of their tutors. The professors’ panel twice rejected Georges Rouault, the most talented of all the contestants. Following the death of Professor Gustave Moreau quite a few students, among them Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault and Albert Marquet, left the school. Although Dufy enrolled two years after Matisse’s departure, he heard reverberations of the latter’s theories.

32 Raoul Dufy ★

La Plage de Sainte-Andresse, 1906

During that period Dufy discovered Monet and Pissarro, Manet and Corot. He frequently visited the Durand-Ruel Gallery and other Montmartre galleries and art shops (those of Vollard, Hessel and Sagot, and Berthe Weill). He does impressionistic cityscapes and falls under the influence of Monet and Degas.

There is nothing in his 1902-1904 canvases that could appeal to Ecole de Beaux-Arts professors, but Dufy was in no hurry to leave the school, where he had every condition for work and, most important, the Havre municipality scholarship.

At that time Dufy was not resoundingly successful, but still won a measure of recognition. In 1902 Berthe Weill paid him 30 francs for a pastel and invited him to participate in young artists’ shows. In 1903 Dufy for the first time exhibited at the Salon des Independents and sold his first canvas; the buyer was such a sophisticated connoisseur as Maurice Denis.

Dufy falls under the influence of Van Gogh; he is fascinated with the Dutchman’s lust for light and riot of colors, with paintings in which the drawing and the color are one.

62 Raoul Dufy ★

Factory at l’Estaque, 1908

52 Raoul Dufy ★

Boats Moored at the Pier of Marseille, 1908















Dufy grew particularly close with Marquet at that time. Together they went to Normandy: in 1904 they worked at Fecamp and later, in 1906, painted the same motifs at Trouville, Sainte-Andresse and Le Havre. Dufy joined up with Friesz for a trip to the Channel coast, to Fecamp and Falaise (1905 and 1906), and in 1906 worked at Durtal together with Braque.

Dufy did not exhibit at the famous 1905 Autumn Salon, which became the baptism of Fauvism. Henri Matisse was by rights considered the leader of that school as his works expressed the principles of Fauvism with classic clarity. The public did not view Dufy as a pioneer of Fauvism: when he joined the Autumn Salon, all the hats of “trouble-makers” had already been taken. His works paled next to those of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck. Critics also tended to view him as little more than a susceptible pupil.

41 Raoul Dufy ★

Little Palm Tree, 1907

From 1906 on Dufy began to understand and deeply appreciate Cezanne as a master of new art. Dufy viewed him as an example of supreme artistic wisdom and, moreover, as a standard of honesty of a person who never betrays his principles for the sake of official awards or personal success. Dufy’s Cezannism was strongly linked to Nature, which, however, did not become for him a subject of composition, as was the case with Cubists, in particular, with Braque, also strongly influenced by Cezanne.

The main point of Dufy’s coloristic differences with Cubists was the blue, the color of the sky and the sea. Perhaps, the reason for his close attention to the lush range of the blue was his impressions of ancient stained glass. In 1909 Dufy, penniless, settled at the Villa Medicis Libre in Orgeville (Normandy), opened by the Paris sponsor Georges Bonjean for needy artists. Hence he traveled to Évreux to admire 15th-16th century stained glass.

In the same year of 1909 Dufy together with Friesz accepted the invitation of the German artist Hans Purrmann, one of Matisse’s first pupils, and traveled to Munich. He was in dire financial straits while in the Bavarian capital, his progress was arduous, and the works he did there show the stress that was unusual for him.

72 Raoul Dufy ★

Large Bather, 1913

The 1910-1913 works, most of which were done in Paris and Le Havre, breathe both restraint and power. Now Dufy eagerly uses large canvases. Painting on a far larger surface without diminishing either the impact of individual shades or the monumentality of the whole composition required high skills of picture composition and structuring. This mastery is perfected not only through untiring work, but also owing to his enthusiasm for woodcuts, which almost equaled his passion for painting.

It was Guillaume Apollinaire who was the first to take note of the link between Dufy’s paintings and his woodcuts and the art of xylography in general; he observed in his review of the 1910 Salon des Independents: “Dufy’s talent suggests analogies, on the one hand, with Umbrian artists and, on the other, with ancient xylographers. His paintings are well organized and he does them confidently.”



92 Raoul Dufy ★

Fishing, 1910

Guillaume Apollinaire, one of the keenest interpreters of modern art, arranged with Dufy to do illustrations for his Le Bestiaire, which were done in 1910. Next year the publisher, Deplanche, who did business cards and illustrated menus (respectable publishers declined to do the book) printed 120 copies on a hand press, but they did not sell well because of the limited print run. In spite of every effort taken by Apollinaire, who even issued a special bulletin of subscription to Le Bestiaire, describing it as “one of the rarest and most brilliant books of our age,” the project fell short of success.



Dufy’s engravings, ignored by art lovers, attracted the attention of Paul Poiret, a top Paris fashion designer. Supremely artistic, Poiret knew how to translate his new impressions into striking interior decorations and new dress fashions. He immediately recognized Dufy as a born decorator and began to give him all sorts of commissions. In May 1911, for example, Poiret staged at his lavish 18th-century mansion a grandiose party, “The Thousand and Second Night,” which attracted all the Paris beau monde. Dufy was charged with the general decoration of the event and with drawing up a sophisticated program. But his primary duty was producing new fabrics for Poiret. He got 2,500 francs from the “fashion king” and used the money to secure a small studio at Boulevard de Clichy on Montmartre.

102 Raoul Dufy ★

Fisherman. Sketch for Fabric Print, 1918

111 Raoul Dufy ★

Seaman or Neptune. Sketch for Fabric Print, 1918

The artist made every effort to get a solid grip of techniques that were new to him: he visited chemical laboratories and on numerous occasions watched the process of fabric printing. He experimented to achieve new decorative effects. In producing fabrics, Dufy turned to the experiences of the 18th century, the heyday of decorative fabrics production. Textile print books published by Poiret recommended up to 20 colors to be used, but Dufy usually relied on just two or, more rarely, three, thus achieving a special beauty and clarity of color and the coloristic laconism that he had perfected in his Cezannist paintings.

From 1910 on, totally busy at his Boulevard de Clichy studio, Dufy more and more rarely reverts to painting, which in no way helps him earn a living. Moreover, work for Poiret indeed carried him away. The textiles mogul Bianchini took an interest in the artist and invited him to work for his factories. Dufy needed financial stability: in 1911 he married Eugénie Brisson. Being wise and far-sighted, Poiret gave Dufy freedom of choice, and in April 1912 Dufy was employed as a designer by the Lyons-based Bianchini-Férier firm. The contract with Bianchini lasted till 1928 and was only suspended for the period of the First World War: Dufy was called up and served first in the motor troops and then at the War Museum in Paris. After the war, anticipating the profits that could be earned if Dufy devoted all his energies to fabrics production, Bianchini offered him a share in the revenue of his factories. “I refused millions to save my painting rather than make it suit the tastes of a trader. The boss took no offence at all: ‘But you are a tough one,’ he said, looking me straight in the eye.”

122 Raoul Dufy ★

Cones of Lilies and Five-petaled Flowers. Sketch for fabric print, 1919

When Dufy resumed painting in two years, he retained floral, predominantly foliate motifs. However, in those years he rarely painted: even before there had been few buyers of his works, while with the outbreak of the First World War any hope of sales evaporated. During the war he did not work on sketches for fabrics either, which left him without any source of continuous income. Occasionally the artist got orders from publishers, but the amounts earned were too small: he had to draw vignettes, scrolls and small knots or bows of ribbons for various poetic anthologies.

After the war Dufy devotes more and more time to painting, however, not dropping graphics, in particular, book illustrations. In 1920 alone as many as five books illustrated by him were published. He takes keen interest in tapestry, and also furniture, ceramics and china – in fact, he wants to try his hand at everything. He works for the theater as well, his most notable project being stage designs for the pantomime ballet The Ox on the Roof (scenario by Jean Cocteau, music by Darius Milhaud) at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1920).

It was not until the 1920s that Dufy’s paintings finally won recognition, and an unbiased and broad appreciation of all the related fields of his creative endeavors prevailed. By that time his individual style had taken its ultimate shape. The final touch was the unusual discovery made by Dufy at Honfleur in 1926: shape and color do not always quite match each other. From now on Dufy’s paintings are a coloristic base for drawings, which were actually a maze of quickly drawn fine lines. One of the first works done in this manner was A Casino at Nice (1927).

Dufy honed up his mature style simultaneously with shaping the range of themes that were the hallmark of his work during the last three decades of his life. Some critics define them as man and his life, the city and the sea, while others say they include the studio, orchestra, horse and boat racing, harvesting, etc. Apparently, both approaches are correct.

So, Dufy became famous by the early 1930s. In 1926 he became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and had one-man shows in Zurich and Brussels, Prague and New York. Yet he had had his devotees even before that. The early collectors of Dufy’s works include Dr. Maurice Girardin and the young medic Alexandre Roudinesco of Romanian origin, who spent all their resources on paintings. Girardin was more after Marcel Gromaire and Rouault, but his collection also included 18 works by Dufy. Roudinesco started his collection when a student, and it included many works by post-Impressionists and Fauvists, but Dufy with his over 100 paintings, watercolors and gouaches, had the pride of place in it. Dufy finally found his way into museums: in 1932 the Musée de Luxembourg in Paris bought his Paddock at Deauville (1930).

131 Raoul Dufy ★

Landscape at Deauville, 1930

In the 1930s Dufy did many portraits, landscapes and even interiors. He also broadened his endeavors in the decorative and applied arts. The Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory produced several tapestries on the commission of Marie Cuttoli, who in the early 1920s had asked Matisse, Rouault, Picasso, Braque and some other major painters to make cartoons. However, none of them was familiar with the specifics of carpet making. Made after their designs, tapestries merely echoed easel painting, inferior in quality and superior in price. Dufy gradually mastered the art of carpet-making and finally became able to do “woven paintings” which conveyed his knowledge of the medium and trust in its properties. Dufy did his best tapestries in the late 1930s and the 1940s. He also did ceramics together with the ceramist Josep Llorens Artigas, who later worked with Marque, Braque and Miro. In the 1920s and 1930s he produced 109 vases and 60 “house gardens.”

In 1927 Dufy tries his hand at decorative monumental painting. He did murals in the spacious Paris dining hall of Dr. Viard. The artist benefited from that experience when he was to do his largest project, The Electricity Fairy. He was commissioned to produce a huge decorative mural for the electricity pavilion that was to be built for the 1937 World Fair. The 600 sq. m mural consisted of 250 2 x 1.2 m plywood panels closely fitted to one another; the mural was 10 m high and 60 m wide. The artist, helped by his brother Jean and André Robert, worked on the mural for four months. The mural, one of the largest projects in the history of painting, presents the entire history of the development of electricity, including portraits of over 100 renowned scientists. After the Fair Dufy refused to sell the mural piecemeal or have it displayed at a US department store. At present part of the mural is on show at the Modern Art Museum in Paris and the other parts are in storage. Shortly after the World Fair Dufy did other decorative panels, in particular, for the theater of the Chaillot Palace.

In the late 1930s Dufy’s capacity for work began to decline, primarily because of progressing polyarthritis, which severely constrained his movements around. His work was reduced to easel painting and graphics. He did many interiors, studios and orchestras. Music played a great role in his work, and he did a series of canvases celebrating the violin.

Dufy spent the period of the Second World War in Perpignan with its benevolent climate for his health. After the war he moved to Vence, but had to return to Dr. Nicolau’s clinic in Perpignan. In 1949 Dufy took a course of treatment in Spain, and the next year, accepting the invitation of the renowned US medical specialist Freddy Homburger, a great fan of his talent, he traveled to the USA.

Following a course of treatment in Boston and a few months spent on medical recommendations in the hot and dry Arizona, Dufy returned to France in 1951. He went to Le Havre and was awed by the destruction wrought in the city. Neither the quarter he lived in nor the college he attended had surived. He viewed that as a harbinger of impending death and hurried to complete a number of canvases he had started. Some of them were exhibited at the 1952 Venice Biennale, where Dufy was awarded the Grand Prix. He donated the award for the benefit of young artists. Dufy spent the last 18 months of his life in Provence, in the Forcalqueier village, which is said to have the driest climate in France. Yet his days were counted: Dufy died on March 23, 1953, and was buried at the Cimiez Cemetery in Nice; Marc Chagall was among those who bid him the last farewell. Three months after the artist’s demise the Paris Museum of Modern Art mounted the first major retrospective of Raoul Dufy.





A. Kostenevich. Raoul Dufy. Iskusstvo Publishers, Leningrad department, 1977 (in Russian)

Raoul Dufy. Le plaisir. Musée d’Art moderne de la ville de Paris. 17 octobre 2008 – 11 janvier 2009. PARIS musées.