Gouache and watercolor on paper laid down on canvas
19 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches (49.5 x 64.7 cm)
Signed: Jean Dufy
To be included in the forthcoming second volume of the catalogue raisonné on the artist by Jacques Bailly.
Jean Dufy was born into a large artistic family in Le Havre in 1888. From a family of nine children, Jean Dufy was the younger brother of Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), and like his brother, he would celebrate Paris as one of his favorite subjects. The Dufy family was particularly musical, and the father was a talented amateur musician in addition to his profession as an accountant. The musical stage and composers of his era served as the lyrical subjects of many of Jean Dufy’s paintings.
Little is known of Jean’s childhood in Le Havre, other than he worked as an itinerant clerk for an overseas import business and as secretary on the transatlantic liner La Savoie, which linked Le Havre to New York. At the 1906 Le Havre exposition he first saw the works of Matisse, Derain, Marquet, and Picasso. After serving in the military from 1910 to 1912, Jean moved to Paris and grew acquainted with Derain, Braque, Picasso, and Apollinaire. He showed his first watercolors at the Berthe Weill gallery in 1914, and these works show the hatching technique practiced by Cezanne and his brother Raoul.
Jean was drafted shortly after this first exposition to fight in World War I. Upon returning from the war he received medical treatment in Val-d’Ajol, in the Vosges region, where he drew the landscapes, flowers, and horses of the region. In 1916, after briefly working with his brother for the textile painting studio of the Bianchini-Férier company in Lyon, Jean embarked upon what would become thirty years of decorating porcelain for Théodore Haviland in Limoges. His floral and animal-based designs earned him a gold medal at the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts for the “Châteaux de France” set.
In 1920, Jean moved back to Paris, settling into Montmartre. Amid this intense artistic scene, the artist developed his skills as a colorist. He also met some of the great musicians of the day, and his work increasingly reflected the marriage of art and music. He created scenes of musicians and orchestras, and several showed the figures in the shapes and placements of musical notes upon a page. He also was attracted to paintings circuses and clowns. In the following years, Jean’s return visits to Le Havre inspired many colorful landscapes. For the 1937 World’s Fair, the general manager of the Paris electricity distribution company commissioned Jean and Raoul to decorate the electricity pavilion.
Between 1950 and 1960 Jean traveled widely, mostly in Europe and North Africa. Paris remained his favorite subject, drawing the parks, the Eiffel Tower, street life, and the Seine. During his life, Jean Dufy was a well-known painter with frequent expositions in Paris and the United States. He passed away on May 12, 1964, in La Boissière in the village of Boussay, two months after the death of his wife Ismérie.
Les Cavailers dans le Bois represents one of Dufy’s quintessential subjects, painted in a favorite water-based medium. Around 1950 Dufy painted several colorful scenes of the horsemen and horse-drawn carriages of the Bois de Boulogne, Paris’s fashionable grand park, with this work serving as an excellent example. Seemingly at play with his water-based paints, Dufy sets his horsemen subjects all in motion. Even the building seems to dance, and the trees seem to sway to the right. Dufy’s sketchiness of the scene adds to the whimsy of the horses at play. Most notable with the work is Dufy’s fresh and vibrant sense of color – the deep aqua blues of the sky and trees, all set in counterpoint to the yellows, fleshy pinks, and whites of the horses. A showy red highlights a horseman, a carriage passenger, and the bark of the tree that serves as the painting’s focal point.