Some French museums are still optimistically putting up exhibitions in hopes that they will be allowed to open their doors before the show’s announced end date arrives. One of them is the delightful Musée de Montmartre, up on the hilltop once thronged with tourists, where a few of the dozens of street artists who used to congregate on the Place du Tertre still wander forlornly through the streets around the Sacré Cœur, sketchpad in hand, hoping to persuade a passerby to have her portrait drawn. Last week, the museum invited the press to see a preview of “Le Paris de Dufy” (“Dufy’s Paris”), currently scheduled to run through September 2021.
Raoul Dufy (not to be confused with his younger brother Jean, another well-known artist with a similar style) is a painter who doesn’t seem to have a dark side. I have never been a huge fan, but it is always a pleasure to see his whimsical and colorful seascapes, cityscapes and still lifes. This exhibition is the first to gather his paintings of Paris.
Born in Le Havre in 1877, Dufy moved to Paris in 1899 after working for five years as a teenager for a coffee importer in his hometown’s port, and enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris, he moved studios often, one of them being located at 12, rue Cortot in Montmartre, now the site of the museum itself. In 1911, he took a studio in another part of Montmartre, closer to Pigalle, at 5, impasse Guelma, which he kept for the rest of his life, even when he lived elsewhere.
It was a heady time to be a budding young artist in Paris, and Dufy, who flipped when he saw an exhibition of Matisse’s Fauve paintings in 1905, was greatly influenced by Impressionism (and Cézanne, like the Impressionists themselves). He experimented with Fauvism and Cubism before developing his highly recognizable personal style, notable for its delicate touch, lighthearted spirit and rich color combinations. Among his friends and acquaintances in Paris were Cubist Georges Braque, poet Guillaume Apollinaire and fashion designer Paul Poiret. Success came fairly quickly for Dufy, spurred by the early sale of one of his paintings to the artist Maurice Denis.
Among the show’s 200 works by the artist on show is a Matisse-like painting of the interior of his studio, all pale blue and pink, which shows the view of Parisian buildings through the open window and leads the eye through two open doors to a back room. Another piece, the nearly all-pink “30 Ans ou la Vie en Rose” (1901) might have been painted by Matisse himself, with its flower-patterned wallpaper, forward-tilted tabletop bearing a bouquet of roses and, on the wall in the background, painting of a vase of flowers
His style being particularly suited to decorative works, Dufy produced fabric designs for Poiret and for a silk manufacturer in Lyon. His collaboration with the Gobelins, Beauvais and Savonnerie tapestry manufactures led to the creation of a number of pieces, among them a suite of Louis XVI-style chairs decorated with various Parisian monuments (but not the Eiffel Tower), and the pièce de résistance of his decorative works shown here, a wonderful folding screen called “Panorama de Paris” (1933), with a Beauvais tapestry depicting a naive, fantasized aerial view of the whole city (including a dominant Eiffel Tower), with a bed of flowers reminiscent of the “millefleurs” motifs of medieval tapestries at the bottom and puffy clouds tinted pink by the sunset floating in the sky.
This dreamy bird’s-eye view of Paris is the ultimate romantic vision of the city seen from Dufy’s privileged perch in Montmartre, nicely summing up the artist’s approach and brightening the day of anyone who sees it. Let’s hope that the museum will be able to open before September so that you can.Favorite