- Raoul Dufy - Painter of Joy [Biography]
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Raoul Dufy

At least since artists began to paint on canvas, some sort of preliminary drawing, probably in pencil or charcoal, has usually preceded the actual application of paint. The aim has always been to delineate where to put the paint. Sometimes this drawing has been highly detailed, very nearly like finished works of art in and of themselves. In other cases, the barest suggestion of composition and tonalities has sufficed. Some artists have even rendered these canvas sketches with paint rather than a dry medium. But always, by definition, a preliminary drawing came before the paint. Well, almost always. The work of Raoul Dufy proved the exception.

Dufy (pronounced Du-fee) was born in Le Havre in 1877. By the turn of the century when he began to study art in Paris, the oppressive reign of academic Realism was at an end, Impressionism was passÚ and le Fauves were outraging the art world with their "irresponsible" use of colour. The late, great Vincent van Gogh was in his ascendancy, as were CÚzanne and Gauguin. Monet still clung tenaciously to Impression, and Picasso was struggling in obscurity to find some avenue to greatness. It was in this setting that Dufy's light-hearted style was also seeking to assert itself. But even though he was almost the same age as his friend, Picasso, Dufy did not find the same kind of overnight success as did the upstart Spaniard. It was not until after WW I that his star began to shine.

Though influenced by the Fauves, the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, and even Cubism to some extent, Dufy's work was none of these. In fact it more nearly resembled a sort of delightfully whimsical calligraphy than any existing style of painting. It may sound a bit trite to say, but he had a style all his own. Except that the term sounds rather silly, we might call it Dufyism. Basically, he painted first and drew later. Like the Impressionists, he first established vague colour masses, something on the order of an out-of-focus colour photo. Then, with a light touch, and paint (either in watercolour or oil) of a thin, "inky" consistency, he would follow up by establishing drawn details--buildings, trees, hills, a shoreline, and whatever the scene demanded. He used a similar technique with still-lives, even the occasional portrait. Try it sometime. Don't paint over that beautiful drawing, draw over that beautiful painting.

contributed by Lane, Jim

22 September 1998

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