Raoul Dufy’s beginnings were marked by his curiosity towards art in general and his love for painting. In his leisure time from his work as a book-keeper he took evening courses at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre and constantly visited the museums. He formed a close friendship with another young artist, Othon Friesz, and both men were influenced by Eugène Boudin and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
In 1900 Dufy joined Friesz in Paris, studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the studio of Léon Bonnat and encountering the work of Claude Lorrain and the Impressionists. In 1902, the painter Maurice Delcourt introduced Dufy to Berthe Weil, who had a studio in rue Victor Massé. Here she organised exhibitions of avant-garde artists such as Marquet and Matisse. The presence of the Fauve painters at the 1905 Salon des Indépendents proved a revelation. Dufy was particularly impressed by Matisse’s Luxe, calme et volupté, adopting the Fauves’ glowing colours and sweeping brushstrokes in works such as Rue pavoisée, 1906 (Pompidou, Paris).
A visit to Munich in 1909 exposed Dufy to the work of the German Expressionists and the possibilities of wood engraving. The following year he made woodcuts to illustrate Guillaume Apollinaire’s Bestiaire ou cortège d’Orphée and in 1911 established with the fashion designer Paul Poiret La Petite Usine, a cloth-printing workshop in which Dufy produced watercolour designs for Bianchini-Férier textiles.
From the early 1920s Dufy developed his characteristic style, in which free, dynamic drawing is coupled with an arbitrary use of colour independent of line, creating a tremendous sense of joie de vivre. Slavish truth to nature was less important than evoking a ‘shorthand of the essential’ through a poetic universe of emblems. Favourite themes included regattas and seaside views bustling with people, and horse-racing. Dufy travelled in Italy, Morocco and southern France in the 1920s; in the 1930s he often stayed in England, where his work was highly regarded.
Dufy’s first stage design was for the celebrated Le Boeuf sur le Toit (1920), with words by Jean Cocteau and music by Darius Milhaud. He produced designs for ceramics, tapestry cartoons and architectural decorations, notably the 600 sq. metre Electricity fairy (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), made for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. Passionate about music, from 1942 Dufy made a series of orchestra paintings. Towards the end of his life he abandoned colour contrasts in favour of almost monochrome tonal painting in such works as Yellow console of the violin, 1949 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto). Raoul Dufy died in Forcalquier, Basses-Alpes, on 23rd March 1953.
The work of Raoul Dufy is represented in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; Tate Modern, London; the Royal Collection, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.