Raoul Dufy (French, 1877-1953) Le séchage des voiles (Painted in Deauville in 1935)

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Lot 9*
Raoul Dufy
(French, 1877-1953)
Le séchage des voiles

Sold for £ 242,500 (US$ 311,382) inc. premium
Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
Le séchage des voiles
signed, dated and inscribed 'Deauville Raoul Dufy 1935' (lower left and centre)
oil on canvas
60 x 73cm (23 5/8 x 28 3/4in).
Painted in Deauville in 1935


  • Provenance
    Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery, London, by 1936.
    The Anne Stoop Kessler Collection, London & Leicestershire (acquired from the above).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    London, Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery, Oil paintings and watercolours "The Chateaux of the Loire" by Raoul Dufy, May 1938, no. 13.
    London, Wildenstein & Co Ltd., The Kessler Collection, October - November 1948, no. 7.

    M. Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Vol. II, Geneva, 1973, no. 835 (illustrated p. 332).

    Le séchage des voiles, or the drying of the sails, depicts one of Raoul Dufy's favoured subjects - a maritime scene. Indeed the artist, who was born in Le Havre and grew up on the shores of Normandy, had a great passion for the seaside and painted numerous seascapes, boats and beach scenes. Dufy was not alone in his love of this subject which has been cherished by painters throughout time, but he stands alongside many artists of the early twentieth century who championed painting en plein air to better capture the transient effects of nature, most supremely observed in the flux of the sea and its environs. In fact, Dufy found that he was able to draw such inspiration and strength from the subject, that he once said: 'Les artistes naissent exclusivement dans les climats maritimes' (R. Dufy quoted in E. Trichon-Milsani, Dufy, Les chefs d'oeuvre, Farigliano, 1993, p. 52).

    At the beginning of the twentieth century Dufy was part of a group of young artists who formed a new movement, one that was to be very short lived but of great impact: Fauvism. The Fauves, or 'The Wild Beasts', revolutionised the handling and application of colour within painting and promoted a freedom of style which foregrounded the sensibility of the artist and eschewed the traditional techniques of academic painting. This startling new aesthetic was achieved through a liberated use of colour and a distillation of form, as Henri Matisse, one of the key founders of the Fauves, explained: 'We move towards serenity through the simplification of ideas and form...Details lessen the purity of lines, they harm the emotional intensity, and we choose to reject them. It is a question of learning – and perhaps relearning the 'handwriting' of lines... Through it, the artist expresses his inner vision' (H. Matisse quoted in Anon. Fauvism – New Possibilities for Color in Art [online] available at http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/fauvism.htm [accessed Dec. 2015].

    Painted in Deauville in 1935, Le séchage des voiles perfectly captures the spirit and influence of the Fauves. Here Dufy has produced a large work free from carefully delineated details, choosing instead to employ bold, expressive brush strokes to realise simplified forms. The large boats, moored at the harbour, are placed at the very fore of the work giving the viewer the sensation that that they too are within the composition - standing at the quayside ready to handle the drying sails. The colour scheme has also been carefully considered, with a dominance of whites and blues underscoring the tones of his maritime subject and evoking the atmospheric climate of his composition. As Dufy himself emphasised, 'colour captures the light that forms and animates the group as a whole. Every object or group of objects is placed within its own area of light and shade, receiving its share of reflections and being subjected to the arrangement decided by the artist' (R. Dufy quoted in D. Perez-Tibi, Dufy, London, 1989, p. 150). The icy blues and muted tones of Le séchage des voiles suggest the fading light of a chilly evening, while the white pigment, which was a key colour for Dufy and prevalent within his palette, conveys a moment of calm after a long day at sea. At the same time, through his masterful handling of the brush and delineation of form, Dufy creates the sensation of wind gently billowing through the drying sails, and we can almost hear the rhythmic slap and flap of tarpaulin as it moves with the breeze.

    Le séchage des voiles is consigned from the family of Jean-Baptiste-Auguste Kessler (1889-1972) and his wife, Anne Stoop Kessler (1889-1983), friends of the artist and among the most prominent collectors of Impressionist and Modern art in London in the interwar period.

    The Kesslers married in 1911 and moved from the Netherlands to London in 1919. Both were from families in the oil industry: Kessler's family company, Royal Dutch Petroleum, became part of Shell Group. The desire to collect was probably inspired by Anne's uncle C. Frank Stoop, an early connoisseur of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art whose donation of seventeen paintings to the Tate Gallery form the basis of that institution's European collection. Stoop advised his niece on many of her purchases, and in his memory she in turn donated a significant portion of her collection to the Tate.

    Prominent in this donation was Raoul Dufy's large equestrian portrait of the Kesslers and their five daughters (The Kessler Family on Horseback, 1932). The Kesslers were keen horse people, and particularly passionate about hunting: Mrs Kessler followed the Cottesmore until the age of 75. As Sir Peter Norton-Griffiths noted in her obituary, she was 'small of stature ... always rode side-saddle and was a splendid-looking figure in the field' (The Times, 8 April 1983). The decision to commission the portrait may have come on the advice of the noted French collector Marcel Kapférer, a friend of the family, and arranged through the agency of Alex Reid & Lefevre, London associates of Dufy's Paris dealer Etienne Bignou and the source of the present work. Dufy was the obvious choice for the commission given his affinity for equestrian subjects, seen in the sequence of paintings of race meetings at Ascot, Epsom, Deauville and elsewhere. The artist visited the Kesslers at Congham House near Sandringham in the summer of 1931, staying for several weeks. Mrs Kessler bought many of the preparatory sketches and watercolours made for the project (many still retained by the family), and formed a deep appreciation for the artist's work. She eventually owned several paintings by the artist including the present work and La Moisson, acquired from Marcel Kapférer (now London, Tate Gallery).

    The Kessler Collection grew to include works by Picasso, Matisse and Degas, as well as Van Gogh's exceptional work on paper La Moisson en Provence and Cézanne's Grands Arbres, now in the National Gallery of Scotland.
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