About The Artwork
Raoul Dufy’s avid interest in regattas, seascapes, and images of leisure found perfect expression in works such as La Regate, which exudes vitality and dynamic movement. Born in Le Havre, a city steeped in nautical tradition, Dufy first painted images of seaside recreation just after the turn of the century, and revisited the theme of regattas throughout his career but with particular focus during the 1920s and 1930s when he depicted the events in his hometown, neighboring Deauville, as well as Henley and Cowes in England. The artist produced numerous painted versions that experiment with his aesthetic theory of couleur-lumière, of which he wrote: “the color captures the light that forms and animates the group as a whole.” In the absence of color, such as the present version done in dark conté crayon, Dufy enlivens the scene with hectic lines and varied points of view.
The joie de vivre surrounding regattas — billowing sails, glamorous crowds, and colorful flags — appealed strongly to Dufy, and here he shares what appear to be impressions of an afternoon spent by the water. Despite the seeming cacophony of straight and curving lines, the artist anchors the composition using strong vertical elements on the left in the row of spectators and in the repeated flags and masts on the right. Certain shapes, such as the half-circle, repeat throughout the composition in the umbrella, the sails, and even the stylized waves and unify the structure of the scene. From his earliest images of these maritime races, such as The Regatta (1908–1910, Brooklyn Museum) the artist adopted the point of view of a spectator, in effect placing himself (and us) in the audience. La Regate continues this approach, but instead of offering a single, illusionistic perspective Dufy seems to observe everything all at once, from a variety of angles. For example, he looks down on the racing shell on the right, while simultaneously sketching a similar shell straight on, connecting the two through the repeated diagonals of the oars.
Simultaneity and an element of liberation: Dufy described his approach to image making as spontaneous rather than carefully planned:
I do not believe at its beginnings that a work of art starts off in a well chosen direction. As for the painter, he has a tingling in his fingers at the touch of a paint brush or crayon, and he begins his work without a definite object … The signs that he makes … reveal to him the form and the movement of the things more than these things inspire him to create certain forms. 1
A painter, printmaker and decorator, the artist received a traditional education early on in Le Havre and at the Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He came of age in the French capital before World War I, influenced by the Fauves (Henri Matisse in particular) and the Cubists. His mature style was marked by exuberant colors and elaborated through a disregard for academic approaches to perspective, modeling and drawing. Around the time that he completed La Regate, he was working in a large variety of media, including book illustrations, stage design, ceramics and tapestries. Dufy also produced wall murals, most notably a composition devoted to the development of electricity for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (1937), now housed at the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Assistant Professor, Frederik Meijer Honors College, Grand Valley State University
- Raoul Dufy, "Dufy’s Notebook," in Raoul Dufy: A Retrospective (Sarasota, FL: Ringling Museum of Art, 1978), 14.