RAOUL DUFY (1877-1953) Un bal champêtre (Painted in 1905)

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Lot 9
Un bal champêtre
Sold for £ 476,750 (US$ 630,467) inc. premium

Lot Details
RAOUL DUFY (1877-1953)
Un bal champêtre
signed 'Raoul Dufy' (lower left)
oil on canvas
48 x 38cm (18 7/8 x 14 15/16in).
Painted in 1905


  • Provenance
    Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
    Galerie Flechtheim, Berlin.
    Galerie d'Art Matignon, Paris.
    Mrs. Maurice Newton Collection, New York; her sale, Sotheby's, New York, 19 October 1977, lot 34.
    Perls Galleries, New York, no. 13810.
    Anon. sale, Ader-Tajan, Paris, 10 June 1992, lot 10.
    Private collection, Belgium.

    San Antonio, McNay Art Institute, Raoul Dufy: A Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Event, 4 May - 29 June 1980, no. 13.
    Paris, Galerie Fanny Guillon-Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, 16 May - 12 July 1991.
    Madrid, Fundación Mapfre, Los Fauves la pasión por el color, 22 October 2016 – 29 January 2017, no. 101.

    M. Laffaille & F. Guillon-Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, supplément, Paris, 1985, no. 1829 (illustrated p. 24).

    'Painting means creating an image which is not the image of the appearance of things, but which has the power of their reality' (R. Dufy, Carnet No. 23, p. 13, quoted in D. Perez-Tibi Dufy, Paris, 1989, p. 22)

    Painted in the critical year of 1905, Un bal champêtre is testament to the great leap which occurred in Raoul Dufy's oeuvre following his visit to the Salon des Indépendants in March of that year. It was at this exhibition that Dufy encountered Matisse's seminal painting Luxe, calme et volupté (1904), an experience which was to have a transformative effect on the young artist, launching him into a radical new aesthetic and affiliation with a group who would come to be known as the Fauves after the sensational Salon d'Automne exhibition later the same year.

    Prior to witnessing Matisse's jewel-like masterpiece Dufy had been working in an Impressionist style, already acquainted with the Divisionist technique utilised in Luxe, calme et volupté having seen the major exhibition of Signac's work at the Galerie Druet in December 1904. Rendered through a mosaic of pure pigment and freed from descriptive representation, it was the astonishing use of colour employed by Matisse, rather than the Neo-Impressionist technique, which most profoundly struck Dufy and would revolutionise his style thereafter. Twenty years later, Dufy acknowledged this debt to Matisse and the catalytic effect on his painting: 'all the new reasons for painting, and Impressionist realism lost all its charm for me, when I contemplated the miracle of the imagination that had penetrated both line and colour. I immediately understood the mechanics of the new painting' (D. Perez-Tibi, ibid, p. 19).

    Un bal champêtre was likely to have been painted in the rural surroundings of the artist's native town of Le Havre in Normandy. In 1905 Dufy had returned to his birthplace for a brief spell after a number of years in Paris. A prodigious talent from an early age, he had enrolled at a local art school at fifteen but was soon awarded a civic scholarship to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Dufy proved resistant to the academic training that he received there however and in 1903 decided to exhibit for the first time at the avant-garde Salon des Indépendants, working predominately in a style derived from the Impressionists until 1904.

    1905, and more specifically the transformative experience of Matisse's Arcadian landscape, prompted a decisive shift in Dufy's painting. Though returning to familiar motifs such as the ports and coastal regions of his childhood, Dufy also rendered his favoured subjects with an invigorated palette and newly modernist treatment of form: 'Around 1905 - 1906, I was painting on the beach at Sainte-Adresse, I had previously painted beaches in the manner of the Impressionists, and had reached saturation point, realising that this method of copying nature was leading me off into infinity, with its twists and turns and its most subtle and fleeting details. I myself was standing outside the picture. Having arrived at some beach subject or other I would sit down and start looking at my tubes of paint and brushes. How, using these things, could I succeed in conveying not what I see, but that which is, that which exists for me my reality? That is the whole problem [...] I then began to draw, choosing the nature that suited me [...] From that day onwards, I was unable to return to my barren struggles with the elements that were visible to my gaze. It was no longer possible to show them in their external form' (D. Perez-Tibi, ibid, pp. 22 - 23).

    Speaking later in life to the historian and art critic, Pierre Courthion, Dufy recalled the source of the key leitmotifs which occur throughout his oeuvre: 'My youth was cradled by music and the sea' (D. Perez-Tibi, ibid, p. 12). Turning inland from the Normandy beaches, Dufy here portrays a country dance and accompanying musicians, drawing upon the other most formative subject for the artist. Dufy developed a lifelong interest in musicians and instruments, an enthusiasm which was nurtured by the intensely musical family into which he was born. His younger brother Léon was an accomplished flute player and incidentally had taught the instrument to fellow Fauve and native of Le Havre, Georges Braque.

    In Un bal champêtre we see Dufy making bold strides into the Fauvist style, no longer seeking an imitation of reality but rather reinventing the scene according to his visual imagination and poetic whim. Pulsing with colour and luminosity, Dufy punctuates the pastel hues of Impressionism with vivid patches of pure pigment: yellow, black, red and blue – colours which galvanise the surface of the canvas, infusing the painting with dynamism and echoing the implied movement of the dancers and players. In accordance with Fauvist technique, Dufy also reduces the forms to their essentials, distilling the figures and their surroundings into almost geometric blocks of juxtaposed colour, an effect which is further emphasised by the elevated viewpoint and deliberately negated perspective which serves to flatten the picture space.

    In adopting these radical painterly devices, we see Dufy moving away from a mimetic, Impressionist style towards a decisively new visual stance, one which cohered more with his subjective vision of the scene than with a concern for capturing transitory atmospheric effects. In Un bal champêtre Dufy applies colour rather than shade to describe light and dark, utilising a spectrum of pastel tones: sugar pinks, lilacs, lemons and duck egg blues to convey the verdant landscape through expressive rather than descriptive means: 'When I talk about colour', the artist later explained, 'it will be understood that I am not talking about the colours of nature, but about the colour[s] of the palettes, the words from which we form our pictorial language [...] I see colour itself as being nothing but a generator of light' (D. Perez-Tibi, ibid, p. 24).

    Exhibiting characteristics which cohered with the Fauvist style just months before the infamous Salon d'Automne which definitively established the group, Un bal champêtre shows Dufy making his debut as a modernist of daring and consummate skill. The birth of Fauvism scandalised the French public and the establishment, challenging the very foundations of visual expression. Reacting to the uproar of the exhibition, in which the term 'Fauve' or 'Wild Beats' was coined, the contemporary critic Camille Mauclair decried: 'A pot of paint has been the flung in the face of the public'; meanwhile, the writer and art collector, Gertrude Stein, reported that appalled visitors scratched the canvases of the paintings in contempt. In 1905, Fauvism launched the most experimental and audacious movement the art world had ever seen; executed during this key year, Un bal champêtre exemplifies this ground-breaking moment in modern art and the artist's career.

    Though Dufy's Fauvist stage was brief, it instilled within him a taste for simplification, colour and pure pigment which he was never to lose. Of the three Norman Fauves: Dufy, Georges Braque and Othon Friesz, Dufy was its most ardent champion, and it is crucially in the work of these three artists that we can detect Fauvism's development through the Impressionist style: 'To be Fauve in spirit was not just to paint in bright colours. The Fauve Havrais reminded critics and other artists that the intense Fauve palette developed only as each Fauve made a painstaking progression from a pseudo-Impressionism. (A. Martin & J. Freeman, 'The Distant Cousins in Normandy: Braque, Dufy and Friesz' in J. Freeman, The Fauve Landscape, Los Angeles, 1900, p. 236).

    On Dufy's death in 1953, Henri Matisse, the founding father of the Fauvist group, proclaimed that 'Dufy's work will live'. This prediction would come to be true, and it is surely his skill as a colourist, revolutionised by his Fauvist discoveries, that would come to establish Dufy as one of the most important and beloved artists of the 20th Century.
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