Voiliers dans l’avant-port du Havre, 1927

by Jean Dufy


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 21.8 x 25.6 in. / 55.4 x 65 cm
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated (lower right)
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas

Le Havre is a major port in the Normandy region of Northern France, where the Seine River meets the English Channel. At the time it was known as a busy port for people starting new lives, particularly Americans from New York and New Orleans. The excitement and hope radiating from these travellers, their optimism for the future, perhaps influenced how Dufy saw the world as a young man. The artist chose to ignore the grim and industrial nature of the city, instead focusing on sunlight and colour, as his enchanting paintings demonstrate.


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    Voiliers dans l’avant-port du Havre is a bright and energetic depiction by French painter Jean Dufy of the port city and his hometown, Le Havre.

    Dufy has recreated the hive of activity of the busy working harbour, using his distinctive colourful palette and style, with strong vertical brushstrokes that convey the sense of movement and fluid motion of the waves. Fishing boats intermingle with larger vessels on the still waters of the bay while in the distance the buildings of the port city are glimpsed. Voiliers, used in the title, refers to the specific type of boats depicted in this painting; the name of which is derived for the French word for sail or veil. The boats were previously mercantile ships but during Dufy’s lifestyle they were also used as leisure boats.

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    Jean Dufy was born in Le Havre in 1888 and came from a large, musically as well as artistically, very talented family. His older brother was the well-known painter, Raoul Dufy.  Dufy’s career began with a mercantile apprenticeship – he only gradually discovered his love of painting. When visiting an exhibit in Le Havre in 1906, featuring impressive works by Matisse, Derain, Marquet and Picasso, he decided to become a full-time artist.

    When he returned from military service in 1912 he moved to Paris. In 1914, Jean Dufy presented his watercolours for the first time in the Galerie Berthe Weill, receiving great recognition. After this success he was encouraged to work tirelessly on his paintings of landscapes, animals and flowers. By 1916, Raoul and Jean Dufy worked together for textile studio Bianchini-Férier, also developing flower and animal designs for the Lyon porcelain manufacturer Théodore Haviland de Limoges for thirty years.

    In 1925, Jean Dufy received the Gold Medal at L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs for designing the porcelain service “Châteaux de France”. He exhibited consistently for the subsequent years.

    In 1950-60, Dufy took numerous trips abroad, and his impressions from these were reflected in his work. He died on 12th May 1964 in La Boissière in France.

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