A Different Canvas: Raoul Dufy
By LIZ HAGER
This is the second installment in a series of posts, in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles. For all posts in the series, click here.
Raoul Dufy, Jungle, printed cotton, 1922.
A versatile painter, Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) was equally at home in the disciplines of fine and applied arts. In addition to several thousand paintings and drawings, he left behind illustrations for about 50 literary works, more than four dozen tapestries, 200 ceramic pieces, and nearly 5,000 fabric designs.
Raoul Dufy, Vieilles maisons sur le bassin de Honfleur, 1906,
oil on canvas.
As an ardent disciple of Matisse, Duffy’s witty and joyous paintings of southern France, with their vibrant colors, calligraphic lines, and sparse modeling, are a testament to the zeal with which the painter remade himself from an Impressionist into a Fauve.
Raoul Dufy, Madame Dufy, 1930,
oil on canvas
(Musée Masséna, Nice).
Dufy certainly shared his mentor’s pre-occupation with the decorative. Ornamental elements show up in his earlier paintings. But Dufy’s textile designs are where he manipulates the decorative into sensuous and ecstatic works.
In fact, Dufy’s work in textile design, first with fashion designer Paul Poiret and later with the Lyons-based silk manufacturer Bianchini-Ferier, directly informed his fine art style. The flat decorative pattern of colors he employed in textile designs made their way back into his paintings; by the late 20s all of his paintings fully embrace ornament.
Paul Poiret, Opera Coat, 1912
(Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The collaborations with Poiret began in 1910. Though he had participated five years earlier in the prestigious exhibitions of the time (Les Salons d’Automne and Indépendents), Dufy found himself facing sobering financial circumstances. It must have seemed like a godsend, when Poiret, on the basis of the artist’s experiments in woodcuts, commissioned him to design fabrics.
Raoul Dufy, La Fôret, ca. 1911 printed cotton
(Courtesy FDIM Museum, Los Angeles).
Then at the peak of his influence, Poiret was known simply as Le Magnifique, a reference to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, who had led Ottoman Empire to its most expansive and powerful. Working with fabric directly on the body, Poiret pioneered a radical approach to dressmaking that relied on the skills of draping rather than tailoring and pattern making. Looking to antique and regional dress, in particular “oriental” styles, Poiret advocated clothing cut along straight lines and constructed of rectangles. More practically, Poiret’s trailblazing notions about fashion liberated women from the Edwardian corset.
Raoul Dufy, Design for Paul Poiret, ca. 1917 (Miriam Shiell Fine Art).
Poiret saw no distinction between the fine and applied arts; he saw art and fashion as indivisible. Poiret promoted his fashions as unique and original works of art in and of themselves. The collaboration with Dufy produced such signature creations as “La Perse” coat, “La Rose d’Iribe” day dress, and the “Bois de Boulogne” dinner dress (which is made from a fabric that Dufy designed in conjunction with Bianchini-Férier). They demonstrate how Dufy’s flat, graphic patterns were ideally suited to Poiret’s designs.
Paul Poiret, “La Perse” with fabric designed by Raoul Dufy, 1911
(Metropolitan Museum of Art).
It was a short-lived but fruitful collaboration. Failing to imitate Dufy’s bold wood-blocked patterns, in 1912 Charles Bianchini made Dufy an offer too good to refuse, and Dufy left his partnership with Poiret to sign on to an exclusive contract with the Lyonaise firm. This incredibly productive relationship lasted until the late 1920s and produced thousands of designs.
Attributed to Raoul Dufy, Roses, printed cotton, 1929.
Though many of the artist’s designs were monochromatic, mimicking style of thick lined woodcuts, Dufy also utilized the sumptuous palette of the Fauves to great success. He returned to certain themes again and again—florals and exotic animals (the leopard and elephant for example) were particular favorites. Dufy was a master at designing geometric patterns using blocks of opposing colors—the design created equally by the object and by the negative space enclosing it.
Raoul Dufy, Les Tuilleries, woven textile design, 1920-21.
Dufy’s artistic legacy languished for a number decades after his death in 1953. Critics considered his work trivial. Perhaps they could not reconcile the Fine Art /Applied Art dichotomy in his work or maybe they just didn’t know what to do with an artist who so resolutely celebrated life. Nevertheless, it seems certain now that Dufy’s greatest artistic achievement was his ability, irrespective of the canvas, to evoke joy. Once when asked about the role of art in life, he responded: “To render beauty accessible to all, by putting order into things and thought.”
In the process of working both sides of the art street, so to speak, Raoul Dufy helped to change the face of fashion and fabric design. He was nearly single-handedly responsible for the formulation of practically all modern fabric design between 1909 and 1930, and his style radically influenced the popular arts and the commercial design of the Western world.
Raoul Dufy, Interior with a Hindu Girl, 1930
oil on canvas, approx. 32 x 40″
(National Gallery of Denmark).
Even today, Dufy’s vision informs the color, design, texture, and imagery of a wide range of products in our contemporary world.
More Dufy paintings
Poiret: King of Fashion exhibit
The New Yorker—Judith Thurman “Cut Loose: Paul Poiret’s Revolution“
Dufy, Le Bestiaire (collaboration with Guillaume Apollinaire)