This text originally appeared in the catalogue Raoul Dufy: Le plaisir (2008), published by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Raoul Dufy, Palais de la Bahia, Marrakech (1926) watercolor on paper.
Collection Philip Taaffe. By permission ADAGP, Paris
What amazes me about Raoul Dufy’s paintings is how well integrated they are compositionally, and how they convey with great economy such a strong sense of light and temperature and geographical place.
His efforts are thrilling. He demonstrates an on-going, never-ending will to be there through his relentless urge to depict. The pictures have an emotional tenor about them; there is a powerful feeling of the moment – of lived and recorded time.
I appreciate the way he constructs his pictures from generalized atmospheric indications – those “peremptory patches of color” in Colette’s words – to the more specific, idiosyncratic renderings of figurative detail. His sense of scale is superb. His use of color is as exuberant as it is extremely thoughtful and sensitively deployed – it is, after all, his profound search for light.
Dufy paints as though he were wielding a conductor’s baton – one is immediately taken by the spontaneity and splendidness of his orchestration. Through a combination of speed and sustained observation, he achieves what I would call a refracted scenography that seems effortless and definitive at the same time. There is always something life affirming and celebratory in everything he does. He is an artist of acute visual intelligence.
In Dufy we experience the almost historical inevitability of his artistic style. Dufy’s early inclinations towards Fauvism are one thing. But it is quite another thing for him to have evolved a bold and elegant style out of such shorthand descriptive nonchalance. It is as though he has internalized the Fauvist approach to such a degree that it has become a diaristic method.
I think it is quite telling that as a result of his intensive collaboration with Paul Poiret as a textile designer in 1911, Dufy established a studio in the Impasse de Guelma, near the Place Pigalle, which he kept for the remainder of his life. I believe Dufy saw his involvement with Poiret as a clear way forward, enabling him to become the artist he truly was in the fullness of his spirit of generosity.