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Raoul Dufy, Honfleur and the girl in the red dress

Honfleur postcard

Three years after this card was posted in 1926, artist Raoul Dufy saw a little girl running along the Honfleur jetty in a red dress.

Match! One fine Honfleur evening. La jetée is no more.  Just a few slabs remain, part of a walkway leading to Honfleur’s curious ‘Garden of Personalities’.

As her dress flipped and swirled with each speedy step, Raoul had a moment of artistic clarity.  He would later recall how this patch of colour had ‘stayed longer on his retina than the outline of her silhouette’.  Raoul suddenly understood how the memory of colour far outlasts that of shape and form…    This vision crystallised ideas he had been experimenting with, and somehow gave Raoul the confidence to follow his own path.

Good but not great…

Raoul was nearly fifty that day in Honfleur.  A committed artist, he was slowly achieving recognition for his art, but not yet greatness. A fan of Impressionism, then the Fauves and cubism, they all influenced him.  But he was known as much his work as an illustrator as for paintings. Raoul was struggling to be original.  Here his ‘Port of Le Havre’ in 1907.

The port of Le Havre, painted by Raoul Dufy in 1907

A unique style, at last

From the time of his Honfleur inspiration, Raoul built on the idea of flat planes of colour as the considered background for drawings. Drawings that captured the essence of a scene with light, quick lines; a moment captured, a feeling remembered. Their apparent simplicity belies the amount of time Raoul would spend preparing for each work.

One of the first paintings he completed purely in this manner was A Casino at Nice (1927).

One of Raoul’s many paintings of the casino at Nice, in 1927.

Following his own creative path

Raoul no longer followed the fashions of fine art and his distinctive and instantly recognisable style made his fortune.

So while Picasso painted poor Dora Maar in 1937 with her sad face in pieces in 1937, Raoul painted the joyful ‘fresco La Fée Electricité‘ celebrating electric light, for the Paris International Exposition.

A section of the Electric Fairy by Raoul Dufy. This vast mural is on show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris.

Born in Le Havre, Raoul would return often to Normandy, his delightful paintings recording high days and holidays in the pretty towns along the Calvados coast.

Le pesage a Deauville, 1930

Raoul’s Chemin de Fer poster is a favourite image.  It captures so much that we love about Normandy; a glimpse of the sea, green fields and woods, a charming chateau and the open road, leading us on to another grand adventure.

Raoul’s poster advertising Normandy and the railways

A joyful legacy

Raoul Dufy continued to paint a joyful, elegant world for the next thirty years, even when rheumatoid arthritis stiffened his hands so much his paintbrush had to be tied on.  Raoul died in 1953 leaving a vast legacy of art. What happened to the girl in the red dress? Nobody knows (but thank you).

Art match! Jetée à Honfleur, painted by Raoul Dufy in 1930.

Further reading

Raoul Dufy painted La Fée Electricité with the help of his brother.  Read about their rather difficult relationship here.

‘Dufy’ by Dora Perez-Tibi, published 1989

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