Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Down by the Sea

When you think of the group of painters known collectively as the Fauves, the first name that comes to mind usually is Henri Matisse, perhaps followed by someone such as André Derain. Raoul Dufy’s name usually comes up somewhere later, if at all, a victim of the lightness and pure beauty of his works in a world where angst and struggle are valued more highly. Born June 3, 1877, Dufy painted countless seascapes of the scenic south of France such as the one shown above. Just as Matisse found the blue he had been seeking his entire life in Nice and its surroundings, Dufy seemed to hit his stride amidst the Technicolor beachfront. While Matisse justly gets credit for the intellectual side of the Fauvist movement, some credit should be given to Dufy for furthering, if not inventing, the pursuit of pure visual enjoyment in color that makes Fauvism so striking even today.

Unlike Matisse, Dufy rarely painted the human figure, with his Jeanne With Flowers (above, from 1907) being one of the rare exceptions. Painting his younger sister behind a shield of flowers, Dufy visually puts the human form in second place behind the natural play of color and shape found in the flowers. Jeanne’s face actually takes on the green of the flower stems, transforming her into another bloom. Compositionally, Dufy makes it look as if the young girl rises from the vase, too. This floral dehumanization recalls the dehumanizing approach of Paul Cézanne, who painted his family members more like still lifes or mountains than his beloved. Dufy saw the Cezanne retrospective in 1907 and adopted much of the old master’s style, as did many others of Dufy’s generation searching for new means of representation.

In Le Casino Marie-Christine (above, from 1910), Dufy marries Fauvist color with Cubist technique. Dufy actually studied alongside Georges Braque as a young man, but Dufy’s Cubism resembles Cubism’s Cezannian roots in volume and composition rather than its Picasso-inspired conclusions. The rooftops surrounding the main building become pure shapes pushing against the flattened picture surface, yet the main building remains a recognizable building. The color goes beyond Cezanne’s palette and matches that of Matisse in vibrancy, but the Cubist element Dufy plays with here adds a whole new dimension. Such works are beyond category, further contributing to the difficulty in appreciating Dufy’s art. In later years, Dufy expanded his vision to the decorative arts—home décor, tiles, wall hangings, etc. With the fashion designer Paul Poiret, Dufy designed patterns for silks and dress fabrics that became popular coats, capes, and dresses in the 1920s. The artist of pure joy, who still thought deeply about art, brought joy to the masses through imaginative color and patterns, caring little for the critics who still dismiss his output as pretty things and little else.

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