French painter born in Havre in 1877; died at Forcalquier in 1953. At fourteen Dufy worked as a clerk in a coffee importing firm in his native town. Beginning in 1892, he attended evening classes at the municipal art school after work. In 1900 he went to study in Paris, in Léon Bonnat's class at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Dufy seldom went to the Louvre, maintaining that the great Masters frightened him (although he loved the works of Claude Lorrain). What really interested him was the work of Van Gogh and the Impressionists, which he saw at the Galleries of Vollard and Durand-Ruel. He exhibited in Berthe Weil's gallery. In 1905 Dufy chanced to see a canvas by Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupté. It was a revelation to him. 'When I saw this picture', he said, 'I understood at once the new raison d'itre of painting'. Dufy then decided to change his style: no more beaches in the manner of Boudin or Sisley, but streets bedecked with flags and very colourful open-air dances, like the paintings of the Fauves, who made the Salon d'Automne of that year so memorable. For a living, Dufy then turned to engraving and fabric design. After a short trip to Munich with Friesz ( 1909), he began a series of canvases showing the influence of Cézanne. He met Paul Poiret, the couturier, who assured his economic independence by giving him work as a dyer and painter on fabrics. He also worked for Bianchini-Ferrier, the silk manufacturer. In 1920 he stayed at Vence in the South of France, where he painted many landscapes. Then he went on a journey to Sicily and Morocco, and brought back with him a collection of paintings and water-colours. Fame began to come his way, and the first monographs on him were published. At the Georges Bernheim Gallery he exhibited decorated ceramics for indoor gardens. He executed an enormous decorative work (about 11 yards high and 65 yards long) for the Palais de l'Electricité at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. About this time Dufy was beginning to feel the first attacks of arthritis, which was later to cause him much suffering. When the war began in 1939 he finished the panel of the Monkey House at the Paris Zoo and that of the Seine, which decorates the smoking-room of the Palais de Chaillot. In 1949 he left Perpignan, where he had lived since 1940, returned to Paris, and then ( 1951) went to Boston to consult American doctors about his ailment. In America this charming and cheerful man was welcomed wherever he went. The American scene captured his fancy (he had been there previously, in 1937), and he gave the Americans some interesting and curious observations on their country and their culture, both verbally and in paint. He painted racetracks, views of the Charles River ( Boston), and the crowds and skyscrapers of Times Square, which enthralled him. In Arizona he drew rodeos and dramatic sunsets. 'The trouble with the American artist,' he said, 'is that he does not see what is around him until he sees it in a picture.' He advised them to throw away their cameras and then paint. On his return to France he settled down in his country house at Forcalquier, where he died on March 23rd, 1953.
Dufy was a painter of joy -- the joy of seeing, imagining and creating, without ever repudiating the reality of the world around us. He did not mind admitting that there was representation in his painting. 'My clients buy my subjects from me', he said jokingly. 'The rest is just thrown in.' From the visible world Dufy chose a few themes which pleased him, and he made successive variations of them up to the time of his death: streets gaily hung with bunting, the beaches of Normandy, regattas, homages to Mozart and Claude Lorrain, the Bois de Boulogne, race-tracks, garden parties, the farms and forests of Normandy and the South, brass bands and orchestras, fields of corn, work in the fields. The painter would pick out and accentuate a few precise details, such as a palm tree, a balustrade, the hull of a ship, the curve of a shell, a violin bow. Such elements as these became his trade-mark. Dufy summed up all these themes on the cottons he decorated for Poiret, and used them on tiles decorating the walls of his indoor gardens. He spread them over his panel Electricity, and his other masterpiece, Itinerary from Paris to SaintAdresse and to the Sea, in the home of Doctor Viard. There, in the limited space of the picture, Dufy, cleverly immobilizing everything that changes, succeeds in giving us the illusion of passing time. Far from weakening one another, Dufy's variations give one another value. They are the 'states of soul' of a particularly receptive painter, who started seeking afresh in every picture. There is no repetition in his stages of progress. He said: 'When you have succeeded in something or other, quickly turn your back on it, and enter on a new adventure'.
Another of Dufy's points of originality, the most outstanding perhaps, is his prodigious draughtsmanship, the importance of which has not always been recognized. Dufy put infinite imagination and cunning into his drawings, using the whites of his paper with unequalled skill and knowledge. In fact, in his sketches of race-tracks one is astonished to find that what pleases so much is what has been left out. A few chairs, a few spots for the spectators watching the jockeys parade, suffice to suggest a crowd. Dufy's calligraphy, in graphite, India ink, oil or watercolour, with its precise, rapid, staccato signs, has often been compared to shorthand. But shorthand signs are fixed, stereotyped. There is nothing like that about Dufy's 'handwriting', which, although it does show a few more or less fixed signs in the manner of the Japanese artists, has nevertheless been perpetually enriched and modified by constant observation of the visible world. There is nothing more amazing than a drawing by Dufy. The painter has succeeded in tracing in it the very dynamism of his intimate self. Through this multiplicity of squares, rectangles, triangles, ovals, ideograms of every sort, the charm of a vision is composed and presented. Everything, even the formless, has a contour, a rhythm. Everything is art, nothing is really Nature. By the direct use of line and colour, the painter transmits to us his state of mind, his feeling -- with the result that the objects he depicts speak only through the man who created them, with a pleasure the like of which cannot be found in any painter since Renoir.
And now, his colours. These have, especially in his water-colours, the resonance of primordial freshness. How can one describe Dufy's blue, his subtle red, the serene glow of his greens? Every painter has his dominant colour. Dufy's is blue, the only colour that keeps its individuality through all its nuances. Nobody knew its innumerable variations better than Dufy: vibrant blue, the blue of the sky broken by drifting white clouds, the fascinating blue of a creek at midday, the blue of the sea, ultramarine, the cerulean blue of a fair girl's eyes.
Later, he tried to restrain his palette. He began a series of yellow consoles, red violins, black cargo-boats, where the fundamental colour, skilfully modulated, is broken only by a few tones. 'What tempts me now', said Dufy (and this only a short time before his death), 'is to take up the problem of colour again outside the law of complementaries. I would like to try to contrast or combine colours which do not go together; that is to say, which our usual attitude to colour harmony makes us reject.' All that, coming after such considerable achievements, does not fit in with the 'petit maître', elegant and charming, that some people thought Dufy to be -he who was a difficult painter on the whole. Dufy could do well only what he did happily, without reworking. But how much reflection 'between the acts' before he took up his brush again! He would forget what he knew, and awake each morning like a child before the great secret of life and the universe.
Toning down a once proverbial desire to please, his illness intensified his vision and made him concentrate his entire being on his creative work. He lived only through and for his art, but without becoming a slave to it. For him painting was one of the superior activities, a means of communicating with others, of bringing them sustenance. Dufy knew how to do everything, and do it artistically. He liked to stress how important technique could be in the work of a painter. But, at the same time, he would state that the artist should get beyond technique, in the sense that he should cease to be preoccupied with it. In that, and only that, he belonged to the Renaissance. He did not work according to classical perspective. He rejected the laws of chiaroscuro, as well as everything based on the physical lighting of the object. He organized and illumined his canvas according to his own conception of light. He had conceived a theory of white shadows (neutrals) and coloured lights.
Dufy was never satisfied with what he knew. Up to the last he could be seen throwing himself with extraordinary youthfulness into the quest for new ways of expression. For instance, he tried to convey, by using black, the effect of being dazzled by looking straight into the sun.
Dufy did not give a thought to fame, but at the end of his life he was overwhelmed by the indications of his triumph that came to him from practically all over the world. He lived to see the great retrospective exhibition of his works held in Geneva. That was a year before his death. The posthumous Paris exhibition, in the summer of 1954, showed the importance and fecundity of his painting.