Raoul Dufy exulted in the theme of pleasure sailing all his life. Most of his subjects – horse racing, dancing, concert-going, sea bathing – celebrate the joy of existence. The sea was a constant background to his childhood in Le Havre and its shifting, ambiguous quality was an ideal metaphor for his way of forming a picture. In Le bassin de Deauville the delight lies in the play between flatness and recession, patterns on the picture surface and ‘realistic’ space. The yachts, created with a seemingly childlike naivety with a few strokes of the brush, are in fact placed with perfect poise so that they evoke both panorama and depth. Dufy grounds the whole composition in blue, his favourite colour. ‘In an interview given at the end of his life, [Dufy] stated that blue was the only colour that retains its distinctiveness, whatever its degree; that it never changes, whatever the shade or variation’.1
The freedom of the yachts, which float about our field of vision, is contrasted with the monumental buildings of the port behind, crisply defined in a network of black lines. The stubby, grubby steamship at the left, a typically witty touch, also serves to underline the grace of the sailing ships. Le bassin de Deauville was made in 1938, when Dufy had refined his style to a point where he could convey its essence with the chicest, most economical of means. By this time he was internationally celebrated, with shows in London, Basle, New York and Chicago that year. In 1937 he had had great success with his vast painting La fée électricité, exhibited at the Exposition Internationale in Paris. Despite its immense size, it was described by New York Herald Tribune critic John Ashbery as achieving ‘a truly Mozartian lightness’2. One might say the same of the present Le bassin de Deauville.
This painting was formerly owned by Dr Maurice Girardin (1884-1951), a dentist by profession who purchased his first work – a Signac view of Venice – in 1914. Girardin amassed a large collection of contemporary paintings from artists who frequently became friends, including Georges Rouault, Marcel Gromaire, Raoul Dufy, Vlaminck, Utrillo, Lipchitz and Zadkine. In 1920 he founded Galerie La Licorne at 110 Rue de La Boétie, promoting the work of young talents. Girardin bequeathed over six hundred works to the Ville de Paris, which today are kept in the Palais de Tokyo. Dufy’s Le bassin de Deauville has descended in Dr Girardin’s family.
1 Charles Sala, ‘Raoul et Jean Dufy’ in exh. cat. Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet, Raoul et Jean Dufy: Complicité et Rupture, 2011, p.84.
2 Quoted in Musée Marmottan Monet 2011, op. cit., p.180.