Raoul Dufy was born into a large artistic family in Le Havre in 1887. From a family of nine children, he was the older brother of artist Jean Dufy (1888-1964), and like his brother, he would celebrate Paris as one of his favorite subjects. Raoul left school at the age of 14 to work in a coffee-importing company. In 1895, when he was 18, he started taking evening classes in art at Le Havre's École des Beaux-Arts. At the school Raoul met Raimond Lecourt and Othon Friesz. Dufy would later share a studio in Montmartre with Friesz and the two remained lifelong friends. During this period, Dufy painted primarily Norman landscapes in watercolors.
After a year of military service in 1900, Raoul won a scholarship to the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. During his time there he was profoundly influenced by Impressionist landscape painters, such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, and post-Impressionists like Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Dufy had his first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in 1903, but he abandoned Impressionism a few years later when he saw Henri Matisse’s exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants and took an interest in Fauvism. He produced works with vivid, contrasting colors and broad sweeping brush strokes. Dufy was influenced by Cézanne’s work as well, which led him to paint more subdued colors and structured compositions. He worked briefly in a Cubist-influenced style with the painters Georges Braque and Émile-Othon Friesz, but he soon returned to his more carefree Fauvist approach.
Dufy was also a successful artist in other media. In 1910 he produced a series of woodcuts to illustrate poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s Bestiary. In 1911 he started working in textile design with Paul Poiret, the most fashionable dress-designer in Europe at the time. Dufy designed fabrics for Bianchini-Ferrier, a leading French textile company and in the 1920s he designed ceramics and tapestries.
In the early 1920s he again focused on his paintings and developed his distinctive style, which was characterized by skeletal structures, arranged with foreshortened perspective, and the use of thin washes of bright colors quickly applied. Dufy painted scenes of recreation and spectacle, including horse races, regattas, parades, and concerts. He spent much of his time at the French Riviera and produced a series of paintings of Nice.
In 1935 he began to explore using a specially prepared oil paint presented by a chemist that reproduced the freshness and lightness usually associated with watercolors. He used the new paint in 1937 to create his remarkable work La Fée Électricité (The Electricity Fairy). The seventy-thousand square foot painting was created for the Palace of Light at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dufy exhibited at the annual Salon des Tuileries in Paris. By 1950, his hands were struck with rheumatoid arthritis and his ability to work diminished, as he had to fasten the brush to his hand. He travelled to Boston to undergo an experimental treatment. It proved successful, and some of his next works were dedicated to the doctors and researchers in the United States. In 1952, he was awarded the International Grand Prix at the twenty–sixth Biennale in Venice and died the next year, aged seventy-six. He was buried near Matisse in the Cimiez Monastery Cemetery in Cimiez, a suburb of the city of Nice.
Raoul Dufy depicts here a vibrant marine scene in his unique style, depicting the boat races at Trouville. The sweeping brush strokes and his fearless use of color demonstrate his considerable skill as a painter. The sailboats are painted in white, black, blue, green and yellow, and some of them have distinctive black outlines whereas others are more abstract. The blue and black colors make cross pattern in the water, giving the work a sense of liveliness and movement. Behind the boats are skeletal structures of buildings painted in orange, green and purple tones.