Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) Le champ de courses de Deauville (Painted in 1931)

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Lot 9
Raoul Dufy
Le champ de courses de Deauville

£ 180,000 - 220,000
US$ 230,000 - 290,000
Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
Le champ de courses de Deauville
signed 'Raoul Dufy' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 x 70.3cm (11 x 27 11/16in).
Painted in 1931


  • Provenance
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1972, lot 87.
    Private collection, France (acquired at the above sale).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    M. Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Vol. III, Geneva, 1976, no. 1285 (illustrated p. 297).

    Painted in 1931, Le champ de courses de Deauville displays the uniquely recognisable characteristics of a Raoul Dufy work; the separation of colour and drawing. Dufy's renowned delight in rich colour, curvilinear shape and the equine form are elements for which this French artist is most readily associated and fondly remembered.

    Immersed in a rich, verdant hue, Le champ de courses de Deauville depicts the horse racing grounds of Deauville in Normandy. Dufy first approached the subject of racing as early as 1913, but by the 1920s it had become a central part of his work and the characteristics which make his paintings so instantly recognisable were introduced as seen in works such as Le Paddock, circa 1926. The bright colours and vibrant atmosphere of these events appealed to the artist who became an avid follower of equestrian racing. Dufy spent a lot of time watching the comings and goings of the crowds and in doing so noted that the flash of colour of an object passing at great speed in front of the eye remains imprinted for longer than the outlines of the object itself. This led to the beginning of the dissociation of colour from the outline uniquely prominent in Dufy's paintings.

    The horse races provided abundant opportunity for Dufy to experiment with his theory of couleur-lumière. This technique, which highlighted colour over the shading properties of black and white, allowed the artist to convey light in a very distinctive way. As Dora Perez-Tibi describes, 'These race course scenes - whether in France, at Deauville, Longchamps or Chantilly, or in England, at Epsom, Ascot or Goodwood - allowed Dufy to put his 'couleur-lumière' theory into practice...He decided to convey light by means of colour; the absence of colour represents the unlit area... For Dufy, the balance of the composition comes from the distribution of all the points of light in the centre of each element of the painting. It was here that he found the secret of his composition' (D. Perez-Tibi, Dufy, New York, 1989, pp. 158-62).

    In Le champ de courses de Deauville, Dufy has used colour as an expression of light in a way that unifies the composition and suggests the charming atmosphere that suffuses the painting. The cheerful saturated pigments create a sense of luminosity, filling the scene in balmy light, and evoking the pleasing serenity of summer. Believing that colours had their own lives, Dufy said that '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, ibid., p. 150). In the present work Dufy has used extensive brushstrokes and flooded the scene with luxuriant greens, over which he has drawn the dynamic outlines of riders and figures. At the centre, the large and empty crescent-shaped arena conveys a sense of space and peace, pre-empting the furious battle of the racers about to take on their pursuit. With a lively crowd mingling to the right, the scene provides a glimpse into the excitement and activity that will fill the racetrack. At the foreground, the arena is framed by nonchalant and resting jockeys admired by the elegant and frivolous passers-by. To the left and background, dense foliage and the nearby picturesque town of Deauville complete the scene of an idyllic summer day at the races.

    Le champ de courses de Deauville was painted during a period in which Dufy was enjoying artistic renown as a highly-acclaimed painter. One of the prominent artists of the famous Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, Raoul Dufy was widely praised by numerous writers and art critics, including the academic Christian Zervos. The paintings from this period stand perfect testament to Dufy's extraordinary ability to convey the vibrant atmospheres that pervades the social spectacle of horse racing. The race scenes, whether sailing or equine, of which he painted numerous examples, were particularly appealing to the generation of the entre-deux-guerres who enjoyed a short period of peace and frivolity. The unequivocally cheerful, light hearted and extremely colourful paintings resonated with Dufy's vision of joy, and as Gertrude Stein wrote of Dufy in 1949: 'one must meditate about pleasure. Dufy is pleasure. Think of the colour and it is not that, and the line and it is not that, but it is that which is all together and which is the colour that is in Dufy' (G. Stein, quoted in B. Robertson & S. Wilson (eds.), Raoul Dufy, (exh. cat.), London, 1983-1984, p. 67).
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