"A well painted turnip is more significant than a poorly painted Madonna." - Max Liebermann
Not many artists are so distinctive that an adjective is coined in their honor but here is one: "Dufyesque."
Early on, Raoul Dufy (187-1953) became adroit at effacing the ugly, a talent that came in handy for someone born in Le Havre. Guidebooks agree the port city is one of the least attractive cities in France. With its hustle and bustle, Le Havre provided the animation that was a characteristic of his work. But give Le Havre credit for its municipal art school where young Dufy began his art education.
Raoul Dufy had seen a retrospective devoted to Vincent van Gogh two years before he painted La Dame en Rose. Until then Dufy had shown little interest in painting human figures. Van Gogh's influence is obvious in the use of black outlining and the halo of broken lines that makes the green room vibrate with energy. The uninterrupted line of nose and eye brow is an elegant gesture. No chair is visible although she appears to be sitting. The pink dress barely suggests her figure; it is her face that is the center of attraction. A sliver of a gray door at left and an orange triangle. are the only hints of a location. At first the identity of La Dame en Rose (The Woman in Pink) was something of a mystery. She is thought to be Eugenie Brisson, his future wife.
After his mandatory military service Dufy won a scholarship to L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During its brief heyday, bracketed by the Autumn Salons of 1905 and 1906, Fauvism was an experiment in color for its own sake that shook the staid French Academy to its boots. Dufy soaked it all up as he worked on improving his drawing skills.
By the late 1940s Dufy's ability to paint was so severely limited by rheumatoid arthritis that he had to fasten the brush to his hand. He died in 1953; the cause was intestinal bleeding, likely caused by his treatment with cortisone
Toward the end of his life Dufy saw himself dismissed as little more than an illustrator. Accused of lacking seriousness, his brilliant performance has been overlooked by his critics. In recent years though Dufy's star has been on the rise because so much contemporary art is cold and impersonal. Indeed, Dufy has been called a modern-day Watteau for his depictions of the divertissements of the bourgeoisie and their charming impermanence. "If Fragonard could be so gay about the life of his time, why can't I be just as gay about mine?" he retorted.
Image: Raoul Dufy - La Dame en Rose, oil on canvas, 1908, Pompidou Center, Paris.