Atelier de la rue Jeanne-d'Arc, nu couché au passant signed 'Raoul Dufy' (lower right) oil on canvas 46.2 x 55.2cm (18 3/16 x 21 3/4in). Painted in 1942
PROVENANCE Galerie Georges Moos, Geneva. Estate of Mrs Linda Hirsch, USA (sale: Sotheby's London, 28 June 1995, lot 246). Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above sale). Anon. sale, Drouot Montaigne Paris, 13 December 1997, lot 16. Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 6 February 2008, lot 492. Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
LITERATURE P. Courthion, Raoul Dufy, Geneva, 1951 (illustrated pl.157). M. Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Geneva, 1976, vol.III, no.1161 (illustrated p.194).
Asked to explain the role of art in life, Raoul Dufy once said: 'to render beauty accessible to all, by putting order into things and thought.' (Dufy quoted in A. Werner, The Kenyon Review, 1968, vol.XXX, no.1, p.106). The 'order' which Dufy speaks of is one of harmony - of form, colour and composition - and Atelier de la rue Jeanne-D'Arc, nu couché au passant exemplifies both his translation of beauty though these means and his artistic thinking at the time in which it was painted.
Known for his studies of the pleasurable pastimes of the leisure classes (horse-racing and yachting regattas particularly), Dufy was regarded as a painter of the modern world by the influential French writer and critic, Charles Baudelaire: 'He has everywhere sought after the fugitive, fleeting beauty of present-day life, the distinguishing character of that quality which...we have called 'modernity'...' (Ibid, p.95). However, some of Dufy's most critically important works are studies of interiors, whose windows show us a modern world beyond that of the race-course or marina. These works serve as a kind of self-portrait of the artist at the point at which they were produced and, as a case in point, Atelier is highly reflective of Dufy's artistic concerns in 1942.
Whilst focussing on a realist subject matter (the nude in the artist's studio) within modern living (the paintings in the background of the composition are vigorously progressive in style), the present-day life that Dufy shows in this work is not a general external reality, but rather 'his' reality. And the way that he expressed his Fauvist, Modern reality was via colour theory and threads of neo-classicism.
The two key colours of blue and orange used in this painting reflect Dufy's understanding of colour theory. Indeed, Dufy was a scientific research worker in the field of colour for a period of time in the early 1900s, and the experience gave him the knowledge of how to gain 'order' through colour. The complementary colours of blue and orange create harmony and an impression of 'brightness'. The sense of light in Dufy's work is an attribute that makes his paintings instantly recognisable, and this painting expounds one of the key techniques in colour he employed to create that signature style. Orange pigments absorb mostly blue light and will appear artificially brightened when placed next to blue tones. Compositionally, these two colours also work well together to suggest depth and atmospheric tone; the blues stand forward of the oranges, suggesting a soft, enveloping couch on which his model lays, whilst the black, calligraphic outlines give the viewer a sense of light, shade and structure within the bold and bright composition.
As well as referencing Dufy's technical knowledge, Atelier de la rue Jeanne-D'Arc, nu couché au passant is reminiscent of one of the most historically significant Fauvist paintings, Andre Derain's Bathers, which was completed in 1907. Amidst the Fauvist style of this painting, the colours of orange and blue work harmoniously together and it has been described as glowing 'with a somber luminosity resulting from contrasts of orange-browns and blue-greens' (H. Dorra, Art Journal, 1976, vol. 36, no.1, p.50). The strong neo-classical thread running through the work and the figure central to Derain's composition bear resemblance to the fluid and stylised life study in Dufy's Atelier. Atelier is evidence that Dufy's research into colour theory, alongside the influence of the master Fauvists at the beginning of the twenty-first century, informed his career throughout.
The painting depicted on the right of the studio floor of Atelier de la rue Jeanne-D'Arc, nu couché au passant is also notable. This painting is similar in style to the Black Freighter period Dufy is known to have worked on between 1946 and 1952, wherein the artist believed that black was, rather than the negation of colour, the colour of absolute light. During this time, he applied black washes and blackened areas to his compositions for experimental effect, and perhaps the present work also serves to suggest that Dufy was trialling this colour theorisation as early as 1942. (Raoul Dufy:Last of the Fauves; Norton Museum of Art, http://www.norton.org/Exhibitions/Archive/RaoulDufy/tabid/270/Default.aspx accessed 7th December 2011)