Born in Le Havre on March 12, 1888 into a family of nine children, Jean was the younger brother of Raoul Dufy. His was an artistic family, particularly devoted to music, and the young Jean showed considerable talent at an early age. He was encouraged in his artistic endeavors by his elder brother Raoul and his friend Emile Othon Friesz. Jean first studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre alongside Raoul, Friesz and Braque. After this he traveled extensively throughout Europe, the West and North Africa. He first exhibited at the Salon d’Automne of 1920.
Jean Dufy was a member of the Salon d’Automne and he had successful expositions there (Salon d’Automne at the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées in 1920, 1923, 1924, 1927, and 1932, Galerie Bing in 1929) and New York (Balzac Galleries in 1930, Perls Galleries in 1938) put Jean in the public eye for the first time. He won a gold medal at the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts for the Châteaux de France set.
Two events in the postwar Parisian cultural scene affected the artist’s career: the comedy Le Bœuf sur le toit, in 1920, which gave him the chance to meet the great French musicians of the era (Darius Millaud, Georges Auric, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger); and La Revue Nègre, in 1925, which crystallized the marriage of color and music in his paintings that would lead to exceptional works of art. Jean’s interest in music inspired many depictions of pianists and orchestras, awash with analogous color schemes. During the same period, Jean also paid homage to the Fratellini brothers in paintings of circuses and clowns that teem with the music and language of color, plays of light, and a penchant for the liberal use of white, usually for clowns, horses, and athletes. In his oil paintings and watercolors, Jean Dufy chose to represent Paris using a constantly evolving creative process dominated by a harmony of blue tones. For Jean, blue was an insatiable source of inspiration for the Gates of Paris, the streets, the horse-drawn carriages, the Eiffel Tower, the sky, and the Seine.
He eventually rejected fashionable society, preferring to paint quietly at his farm in the Loire Valley near Nantes, where he remained until his death in 1964. He remained aloof, working alone. His was not, however, a recluse. He lived joyously, though quietly, absorbed in his painting and making long trips with his wife to Paris and the coasts of France, to Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark. Wherever he went, his keen eye and retentive memory absorbed all he saw, and pencil sketches, pen and ink drawing, gouaches and oils resulted, all filled with his own exuberant wit and delight in the variety of the world’s beauty and man’s activities.
When he was at home in the country, the greater part of each day was spent painting. From painting, he turned daily to playing his guitar. He was an accomplished guitarist, having inherited this musical gift from his father. In the evenings he left his studio to go dancing or to the café where he chatted, and observed the personality and individuality of his fellow countrymen, He then returned to his home refreshed and ready to resume painting the next day.
The country squire, living quietly with his wife on his farm, was a country squire only in external appearance. Underneath that deceptive mask laid an artist with a love of bright color and of exceptional technical skill and an architectural sense of a very high order. In his watercolors, gouaches and oils, the eye is caught at once by his brilliant color, his daring juxtaposition of slashing strokes of flashing color, his free handling of startling shades. The surface ease with which he handled paint concealed the firm, strong composition underlying all his work.
These qualities are visible in all that Jean Dufy drew or painted, and his range of subjects was wide. Scenes of Paris, circus life, the sea, ships and harbors, race tracks, flowers and still life, landscapes, occasional farm scenes, hunting scenes, riders in the Bois de Boulogne – all took on an individual, distinctive life and vivacity under his brush.
Jean Dufy passed away on May 12, 1964, in La Boissière in the village of Boussay, two months after the death of his wife Ismérie. Before his death he had solo and group exhibitions, too numerous to list, in Europe and the United States. After his death there have been many retrospective exhibitions.
Museums and Public Collections
- Albertine Kunst Museum, Vienne, Austria
- Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
- Bradywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA, USA
- Boca Raton Museum of art, Boca Raton, FL, USA
- Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, USA
- Davis Museum & Cultural Center, Wellesley Hills, MA, USA
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, USA
- Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA, USA
- Harvard University Art Museum, Boston, MA, USA
- Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, USA
- Madison Museum of Fine Art, Madison, GA, USA
- MOMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
- Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg, VA, USA
- Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, Caen, France
- New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA, USA
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USA
- Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ, USA
- Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, USA