RAOUL DUFY : Ceramics
RAOUL DUFY
Ceramics
Gérard Landrot, commissaire-curator, August 10, 2009
For the first time ever Belgium presents a major retrospective exhibition on Raoul Dufy’s ceramics. And rightly so, for not only has Belgium often hosted exhibitions on his other works, his work has always been highly appreciated. Small wonder that Design museum Gent should take the initiative in exhibiting these ceramic and enamel masterpieces all summer long. For decades this sophisticated location has been a veritable conservatory of good taste, where artists from the past and designers of the present meet. Naturally, Design museum Gent will mainly highlight his decorative paintings, and will present a ceramics collection the likes of which Belgium has never seen before. The objects are part of various French and Belgian private collections and of collections from various European museums. Raoul Dufy’s interest in the ceramic arts should not come as a surprise as he was the ultimate “Do-it-all” painter-genius of the beginning of the twentieth century, a man who was passionate about decorative arts: engravings, carpets, tapestry, wallpaper, theatrical sets, etc. His artistic freedom cannot be ignored as he was the first to make no hierarchical distinction between the fine arts and the applied arts, practising both with equal enthusiasm and talent.


Raoul Dufy_Portrait.
Raoul Dufy_Portrait.


He was born in 1877 in Le Havre, and finds work at 14 years of age as an accountant for a coffee importing company. In the evenings, however, he takes courses at the École des Beaux-Arts of his native town. From 1895 on, he paints academic watercolour paintings, landscapes, portraits and self-portraits. In 1900 he received a scholarship allowing him to study at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, at the same time as Georges Braque. As of 1904 he is influenced by the impressionists and post-impressionists. When in 1905 he discovers the fauvist movement at the Salon d’Automne, more particularly the work of Matisse, he slowly begins to abandon the academic style of painting. As early as 1909 the fauvist influence disappears after having discovered the work of Cézanne. Little by little, he begins to develop his own style which, after a fling with cubism, begins to crystallize. Dufy is primarily known for his colourful paintings displaying joy of life, but this is only one aspect of his life’s work. When in 1911 he meets one of the greatest fashion designers of the 20th century, Paul Poiret, he creates his first textiles.

Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with women bathers and shell fish_adagp
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with women bathers and shell fish_adagp


His first contact with the ceramic art dates back to 1922. From this year until the eve of the Second World War he designs numerous decors for the vases and miniature gardens created by his associate, the Catalan master-ceramicist José Lloréns Artigas. In hindsight, it may seem surprising that Dufy only took to this art form in 1922, the year he met ceramicist Lloréns Artigas. It is certain that he was aware of the search of the fauvist painters who, from 1905 on, had gathered around potter André Metthey in the short-lived École d’Asnières. Among those who began to get involved with ceramic decoration was Emile Othon Friesz, Dufy’s closest and most loyal friend, who along with Georges Braque made up what Apollinaire pompously called École du Havre, of which they were in fact the only three representatives, being ex-students of the baroque Father Lhuillier, the director of the École des Beaux-Arts of Le Havre.

It is with a kind of timeless grace that he designs the exquisite illustrations for ‘Le bestiaire ou le cortège d’Orphée’ for Guillaume Apollinaire. These woodcuts are the lyrical reflections of poetry and correspond page per page with each quatrain, constituting a veritable iconographical echo of the poetic image. These engravings contain most of the themes which the painter will later develop in his research as a decorator of cloth and ceramics, as well as in his general work. This masterpiece was published in 1911 in 120 copies, and was a total failure. Only one man was savvy to the budding graphical virtuosity and extraordinary fertility of Dufy, fashion designer Paul Poiret.


Raoul Dufy/Llorens_Black vase with yellow women bathers, 1925_adagp private collection
Raoul Dufy/Llorens_Black vase with yellow women bathers, 1925_adagp private collection


This meeting with Poiret is crucial because it reveals in a sustainable manner the common vision the two men hold of their respective arts, because of the competition it creates between them, but mostly because of the definitive and decisive character it lends to the structural development of Raoul Dufy’s style. Their brief cooperation in the Petite Usine from 1910 until the end of 1911 allows Dufy to master new techniques such as the chemistry of colourings, in preparation of the complex operations performed in ceramics, but also to develop a spontaneous style, freed from the constraints imposed by his cubist experience. The variety of themes, the liveliness of tones and the arrangement of the motifs detached from the traditional perspective all make these few months into one of the richest creative periods for the artist and constitute the very genesis of the grand (and less grand) compositions to come.

The powerful group of Lyon silk producers, Bianchini- Férier- Atuyer, takes notice of the extreme originality of Dufy’s creations and, with the consent of Poiret, submit to the painter a comfortable contract. With Bianchini-Férier, Dufy develops and perfects the work he had begun with the fashion designer. The technical and material means made available to him allowed him to produce with the freedom and the joy of life that are the very hallmarks of his creativity. Despite the defection, the fashion designer holds no grudge against the painter. Besides, at the Decorative Arts Exhibition in 1925 Poiret again calls upon Dufy to decorate one of his three prestigious houseboats Amours, Délices and Orgues, docked along the banks of the Seine river, in front of the Grand Palais. Dufy and Artigas first meet in 1922 in Paco Durrio’s workshop, in Montmartre. Their first artistic and tentative cooperation would only occur the following year, a true coincidence as Artigas was initially meant to team up with his fellow countryman Picasso. Twice they arranged to meet in the ceramic artist’s workshop, but Picasso never came.


Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas, Nicola Rubio_Small blue garden_Private Collection, adagp
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas, Nicola Rubio_Small blue garden_Private Collection, adagp


After a few stays in the capital Lloréns Artigas develops and perfects his ceramic studies in cooperation with Valentin Dueñas, in Durrio’s workshop, prior to moving into his own workshop located in 22 Quai des Carrières in Charenton-le-Pont, in the immediate vicinity of Paris, in 1923. The young ceramic artist, painter and art critic who was born in 1892 in Barcelona captures Dufy’s imagination as he has different intentions than Paco Durrio: he does not seek to create formal art based on sculpture. Dufy discerns in this relative neutrality the intriguing possibility of combined creation, where his own drawings, enriched by durable enamel and enhanced colourings, naturally invite him to strive towards the decorative coherence which he has long felt to be an imperative necessity.

On the subject of Artigas who, after having taught at the Escola Technica d’Oficis d’Art of Barcelona, had just submitted a brilliant thesis entitled: “Les pâtes céramiques et les émaux bleus de l’ancienne Égypte”, he states: “In art, I believe that there is a continuous line drawn between prehistory and the world of today. In reality, there is but one art whose works are produced by different techniques.” This conceptual convergence is what will allow the two artists to create common work so rich, for such a length of time and in such an indivisible manner. Dufy, Artigas’s elder by 15 years, is already a recognized artist and seems to have been immediately convinced of the talent and personality of the young Catalan. Although the decors created by Dufy during their combined work display an extreme variety, they are still applied to a very small number of vase shapes as we count a total of about fifteen silhouettes, while in his personal work Artigas has produced over a hundred. The formal imagination of the creators, however, is stirred by the invention of their famous “salon gardens”.


Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with women bathers, 1925_Adagp, private collection
Raoul Dufy/Llorens Artigas_Vase with women bathers, 1925_Adagp, private collection


While the first collaboration between the two artists (1922-1930) may be easy to follow in light of three exhibitions in Paris from 1926 to 1929, two in Brussels, one in London and another one in New York, the same does not hold true for the second period (1937-beginning of the war) as it seems that their common works were never exhibited in any gallery. We have hardly any indication of the nature of the work produced in this period, a single known vase has been dated end of 1938. It also bears repeating that between July 1936 and March 1937 Raoul Dufy dedicates all of his energy to the creation of the gigantic fresco La Fée Électricité, destined for the Paris World Fair.

It is at the Decorative Arts Exhibition of 1925, in the “Luxury Arts and Industry” section, that Dufy and Artigas present their common works for the first time. While Raoul Dufy exhibits his personal work at the Bernheim Jeune gallery from 1921 on, the common work of the two friends, composed exclusively of vases, is presented in this same gallery for the first time in 1926. The graphic liberty, the ease and generosity of the motifs and colours, which seem to have been applied with faux nonchalance onto the almost timeless shapes, leave a great many art lovers with the feeling of gazing upon “the fine arts”.


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.

Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas_Black vase with elephants, 1925
Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas_Black vase with elephants, 1925


Due to their originality, their refinement and their vague similarity with toys, the ‘apartment gardens’ fascinate audiences and critics alike, even more so than the vases. Fashioned from Toul earth, these stanniferous faiences are baked two to three times in Artigas’s furnace, which represents a formidable challenge for the least homogenous shapes. Even if we do know that, regarding art, Dufy never accorded any precedence to any value, that he was equally passionate about and attentive to all of his decorative works, and that he always expected the same satisfaction, it is still remarkable that an artist was able to express the essence of his creative vision with such force and so few elements. What is fascinating about Dufy’s work, of course, is the imagination and liberty of his stroke, but also and most importantly the prodigious presence of colour, a presence which is so strong that it already ‘exists’ in a black-and-white drawing: it is felt, it is predestined exactly as in children’s colouring books where each distinct plain of the drawing awaits colouring, and indeed demands it. This colourful exuberance is particularly felt in his pottery as he is using a material he had never before used, but the pleasure he receives from searching and finding new tones and applying the smooth, gleaming, voluptuously carved enamels remains palpable.

Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas-Nicola Rubio_Small garden miniature (horses and Amphitrite)
Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas-Nicola Rubio_Small garden miniature (horses and Amphitrite)


It bears admitting that the Artigas – Rubio – Dufy association worked out marvellously, and the exhibition of the gardens at Bernheim Jeune in 1927 and later in Belgium and England is therefore greeted with resounding success. When Dufy declares: “decoration and painting stem from the same source.”, he not only confirms the uniqueness and indivisibility of his art, but he also implicitly acknowledges the debt he owes to those who have aided him in tracing a common trajectory towards a global art where the hierarchy of the plastic values is excluded from modern times once and for all.

Thanks to his graphic virtuosity, Dufy has helped and prepared Artigas in surmounting the innumerable obstacles presented by ceramic decoration, which would later help him in creating monumental works of art with his friend Joan Miró, works which required technical and even acrobatic prowess.  Thus, Artigas, by introducing Dufy to the malleability of earth and the capriciousness of fire, has allowed Dufy to refine his artistic thinking and to visualize new elements in the construction of his unique and highly distinct pictorial language.


Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas_Vase with fuchsia women bathers on black base
Raoul Dufy-Llorens Artigas_Vase with fuchsia women bathers on black base


While ceramics may be but one of the facets of Dufy’s creation, he practised it for a sufficient length of time – from 1923 to 1930, then from 1937 to 1939, all in all some ten years – to integrate it harmoniously into the entirety of his work. The rotundity of his vases and the complexity of his arches, his stairs and his fountains coaxed him into rethinking his drawings and applying them onto uneven surfaces and at the same time drove him to renew certain themes which are ubiquitous in his work, only now visualized in three dimensions. He who has never, it seems, crafted a sculpture obtains the luxury of being able to ‘circle’ around his creation, thus escaping the exclusive condition of painting in order to elevate himself to the level of creator of worlds. Even though this part of his work spent some time in purgatory, and even though he found precious few galleries or museums prior to his death in 1953 outside of Bernheim willing to exhibit his work, it is now present in the majority of retrospective exhibitions dedicated to the painter.

It is certain that, in the wake of Gauguin, Dufy was a pioneer in the field of pottery as, both by the consistency and longevity of his work as by its originality, no painter before him has succeeded in transmitting to us a work which is so diverse, condensed in a single stylistic unit of perfect elegance. It is with this same regard for elegance that Design museum Gent will display all summer long an exhibition of these masterpieces made from earth, colour and fire.

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