Gérard Landrot, commissaire-curator, August 10, 2009
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Large vase with yellow and green fish, 1924_adagp private collection
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Large vase with yellow and green fish, 1924_adagp private collection
For all of his ceramics, Dufy ceaselessly goes back to and reinterprets the creations he had developed in his textile projects. Among a myriad of sketches made for his textiles, which glorify the endless repetition of the single ornament, multicoloured random dots or subtle decorative foliage which, like cryptic guessing games, show hidden layers, Dufy chooses one element and puts it to work in a manner which is indicative of immense knowledge on the usage of space. The ceramic allows him greater freedom of expression as he is no longer held to the same constraints. There may have been others, but ceramic decoration, detached from the recurrence of the motif and the notion of fashion, is closer to the concept of painting. In reprocessing them, Dufy also breathes new life into all but the entirety of the themes in Bestiaire. It is remarkable that the engravings in this work already contain a large part of the themes he would wield for the rest of his life: the music with the lyre from ‘the turtle’ and Orpheus, ‘the horse’, nature, ‘the butterfly’, the sea with ‘the octopus’, ‘the dolphin’ and ‘the sirens’, ...

Among the numerous other motifs used for textiles and redone on vases and in gardens, the most recurring are those of the naiad and the shell, often featured together. The shells engraved on the lower part of the two vases ‘shells and naiads’ seem to give birth to the bathing nudes which then rise from the water towards the mouth of the vase. The reference to Amphitrite rising from the wave is clear. Dufy also decorates an apartment garden with two naiads leaning with their elbows onto a basin of which the central fountain is a shell.

Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas-Nicola Rubio_Music or opera garden
Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas-Nicola Rubio_Music or opera garden
Nature and more particularly the world of water are omnipresent in Dufy’s work, but the perseverence with which he returns to this exact theme time and again is indicative of the primordial importance he attached to it. Surely we all remember Botticelli’s Venus, but also the symbolism of the shell, associated by multiple civilizations with the concept of fertility, viewed as a token of love and even of resurrection, its form reminiscent of the protective and fertile vulva from which stems life itself. Dufy cherishes this radiant concept of the universe as an earthly paradise before the original sin. His paintings are in constant harmony with this Dionysian humanism. He also associates bathing women with horses. The vases rarely feature anecdotal scenes, and therefore are closer to allegories. Dufy gradually moves away from the ‘occurrent’ representation of scenes and landscapes to distil from it the essence and purified grace.

Dufy also goes back to his experience as an engraver as he endeavours to underline the rugged aspect of certain motifs. The scales of the fish are always drawn using a single stroke into the slipware. The wheats with their flamboyant autumn hue and the wild fruits sheltered by soft summer shade are engraved into the material in order to bring life to the drawing, to echo its rhythm and its sensual materiality. Likewise, many a bathing female who is confronted with the swell is surrounded by small waves delicately carved into the enamel, thus showing the motion of the water and the way in which the bodies enter the water.

Dufy also enjoys taking on the theme of ‘source’ symbolized by a nude female with opulent physical shapes which match those of the vase in a grand way. On at least two occasions, he depicts this water goddess, arms raised in the manner of Venus Anadyomene or ‘the Source’ by Ingres, pouring the contents of the vase she bears on her shoulder onto the surface of the vase on which she is depicted. A collection of 40 faience tiles faithfully reproduces this motif, all the while preserving the splendour of the colouring used for the vase which is now housed in the Le Havre museum. However, while the position remains similar on the vase housed in Design museum Gent, here the female form emerges in an austere white against a solid black background. This total opposition of colours between the two works is evocative of the positive/negative aspect of a photograph. Paradoxically, these black vases (as there is another with an elephant motif) have not been affected or devaluated in the least by their striking two-toned colouring, but indeed possess an enhanced style and breathe a judicious and exceptional purity as Dufy felt that colour only made sense with respect to the way in which it interacts with light. This ‘blinding black’ thus touches upon a radicalism which is unique for his ceramic works. He does, however, bear affection for the colour blue: “the only colour which retains its individuality at all levels”. He makes constant use of this azure for his pottery, again associated with bathing females or naiads.

Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with white women bathers on marine blue base, 1925_Adagp private collection
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with white women bathers on marine blue base, 1925_Adagp private collection
In July 1927, the Exhibition of the ‘Salon Gardens” at the Bernheim Gallery amazes the audience by their irrefutable originality, coming away with unanimous praise. While Dufy’s colour scheme makes use of constant values for the two art forms, it is not only the shapes and structures which distinguish the vases and apartment gardens, but also a slightly diverging thematic orientation. Indeed, the “apartment gardens” are often decorated with specific motifs, and are less embedded in the personal mythology of the decorator and more marked by the influence of a common culture shared by the three agents. One also finds, owing to the Spanish influence, multiple gardens evoking bullfighting, and others evoking boat trips, Paris, Ancient Rome, Adam and Eve in Paradise, the Creation of man and woman, Sainte-Adresse, Music, and even Versailles. It is certainly a delicate endeavour to ascribe authorship of such a thematic element to one of its creators, even if we do know that for example Sainte-Adresse is Dufy’s backyard. It is, however, certain that the considerable contribution made by the architect has led to the creation of a decor which is often different from that of the vases, due to Dufy’s distinctly vivacious use of solid-coloured surfaces and geometrical metamorphoses, all while submitting to the most classical requirements of architecture.

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