French Fauvist painter and designer Raoul Dufy made his mark on the 20th century by developing a colorful, decorative style that recorded the fashionable world of his time. Although some may say that his paintings lack meaning, others might argue that they are a tribute to life.
Born on June 3rd 1877 at Le Havre, in Normandy, Raoul Dufy came from a family of nine children. Forced to leave school at fourteen, he took up working in a coffee importing company to help support the family.
In 1895 when he was eighteen, he started night courses in art at Le Havre École des Beaux-Arts. After a year of military service, the young artist attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris on a scholarship where he met fellow student Georges Braque. Bored by academic painting, he found inspiration in Van Gogh, Gauguin and some Impressionist painters. After graduating to the Salon des Indépendants, he began to develop a style of his own which is reflected in the painting 'The Courtyard of the Louvre'.
In 1902, introduced to Berthe Weill, a prominent gallery owner and principal sponsor of the Fauve artists, Raoul Dufy found some success when she bought one of his pastels. Between 1903 and 1909, Weill included the young artist in six group shows at her gallery.
Dufy’s art took a new direction in 1905 when he came upon the Matisse painting ‘Luxe, Calme et Volupté’, which led him towards Fauvism. The Fauves were known for their use of bright colors and rich bold contours. Later influenced by the works of Cezanne, and a desire to depict the ‘unseen’, he began to unveil a new, more sober technique.
Paul Poiret took notice of Dufy and commissioned him to design some textile patterns for his new line of garments. The Poiret dresses worn by elegant women of his time eventually carved him the road to success. This new popularity as an applied artist fostered other work for the Bianchini-Ferrier textile firm from Lyons.
After settling on the French Riviera for a break from textile work in 1917, Dufy began painting again; now inspired by Chinese calligraphy. Working primarily in watercolor, the artist developed what would become a highly stylized stenographic technique accented with washes of bold color.
During a time when his peers were portraying more serious subjects in art, Dufy adopted a more casual style that accentuated brightly colored and highly decorative scenes of luxury. By 1925, his reputation was solidly established and he began to paint murals for many French public buildings.
Just when he seemed to have it all, he developed multiple-arthritis. In 1937, he moved to southwestern France for health reasons and tried to treat his ailment without success. A slow decline in health seemed to drive Dufy’s ambition to a new level. He created one of the largest paintings ever done, a huge and immensely popular epic to electricity, the fresco ‘La Fée Electricité’ for the Exposition Internationale in Paris in 1938.
Duffy painted until his death on March 23, 1953. He was buried not far from Matisse in the Cimiez Monastery Cemetery in Cimiez, in Nice, France. The famous Raoul Dufy quote, “My eyes were made to erase all that is ugly” describes him well.