Raoul Dufy Artist Biography

Raoul Dufy was a painter and print maker associated with the Fauvist movement, and is best-known for depicting recreational scenes, such as horse races and regattas. He understood the world in terms of decorative art and indeed turned his attention to textile design for a while, which like his paintings were a tapestry of clear colors. The figures in his paintings are often like characters in a play, for example 'Harlequin in the Venetian Manner' (1939) in which a particular figure takes center stage and directs the emotions of the audience. In this way, he found great joy in depicting public events with their pomp and ceremony, such as 'The Coronation of King George VI' (1937).

Raoul Dufy was born into a large family at Le Havre, in Normandy. After taking evening classes at Le Havre's École des Beaux-Arts, he began his studies at the studio of Léon Bonnat at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris in 1900.

Influenced at first by the Impressionist painters, such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, then from 1905 by the Fauve style of Matisse, he began to work in richer colours. Les Fauves (the wild beasts) emphasized bright color and bold contours in their work. Dufy's painting reflected this aesthetic until about 1909, when contact with the work of Paul Cézanne led him to adopt a somewhat subtler technique

After illustrating Guillaume Apollinaire’s Bestiaire ou cortège d’Orphée (1911) with a series of woodcuts, Raoul Dufy became interested in decorative art and set up a cloth-printing studio. His lithographs and etchings accompanied several literary works such as Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le Poète assassin (1926), and Eugène de Montfort’s La Belle Enfant ou l’amour à 40 ans (1930). 

It was not until 1920, however, after he had flirted briefly with yet another style, cubism, that Dufy developed his own distinctive approach. It involved skeletal structures, arranged with foreshortened perspective, and the use of thin washes of color applied quickly, in a manner that came to be known as stenographic.

In his later work, Dufy created more monochromatic compositions in Red Violin (1948) and Black Freighter (1952). His work is currently held in several museum collections worldwide, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

By 1950, his hands were struck with rheumatoid arthritis and his ability to paint diminished, as he has to fasten the brush to his hand. In April he went to Boston to undergo an experimental treatment with cortisone and corticotropin, based on the work of Philip S. Hench. It proved successful, and some of his next works were dedicated to the doctors and researchers in the United States. In 1952 he received the grand prize for painting in the 26th Venice Biennale.

Raoul Dufy died at Forcalquier, France, on 23 March 1953, of intestinal bleeding, which is a likely result of his continuous treatment. He was buried near Matisse in the Cimiez Monastery Cemetery, a suburb of the city of Nice.

Raoul Dufy also acquired a reputation as an illustrator and as a commercial artist. He painted murals for public buildings; he also produced a huge number of tapestries and ceramic designs. His plates appear in books by Guillaume Apollinaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and André Gide.

"What I wanted to do was to carry my investigations further than those of the Impressionists. The Impressionists looked for the inter-relationships of flecks and patches of color, and that in itself was good. Now, however, we need something more than the satisfaction of vision alone; we need to create the world of things unseen."

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