The paintings and ceramic designs of French artist Jean Dufy have come to define a certain romantic and exuberant moment in early 20th-century France prior to the Second World War. In Dufy’s uniquely musical Post-Impressionistic style a beautifully vibrant age of jazz music, summer regattas, concert halls, circuses, and the busy streets of artistic quarters are all captured exultantly. Dufy’s aim was to depict great sweeps of everyday life, to distill the feeling and impression of a scene rather than capture its individual components. It was a style fused from his exposure to Post-Impressionism in Paris during the 1910s, and the loose decorative approach to colour and line he learned during the early years of his three-decade association with Limoges porcelain manufacturer Théodore Haviland, for whom he painted designs.
Dufy was born in Le Havre in 1888. His older brother, Raoul, was ten years older than Jean and, by the time Jean was training at Le Havre’s École des Beaux-Arts where both his brother and Georges Braque had studied, Raoul was already an established artist working in Paris. Jean followed his brother to the capital in 1912, where Raoul took him under his wing, introducing him to his circle of Post-Impressionist friends including Derain, Braque and Picasso.
By 1914 he had had his first exhibition, but it wasn’t until after the First World War, having settled in Montmartre, that the characteristic vibrancy of his palette and brushstroke emerged with his iconic depictions of musicians and orchestras such as Musical Fantasia (1927), and his later Parisian cityscapes such as Rue Royale (c. 1950) and Ile de la Cité (c. 1953-55). In 1925 his porcelain design, Chateaux de France, won a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts.
Dufy would return to his native Normandy throughout his life and spend long stretches in the south of France. As a young man he had served aboard the transatlantic liner La Savoie as a secretary, and his depictions of the sea and ports in works such as Terrasse Fleurie a Villefranche-sur-Mer (1926) are among his best work.
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