- Raoul Dufy
- LA FOIRE AUX OIGNONS
- signed Raoul Dufy and dated 1907 (lower centre)
- oil on canvas
- 88 by 115cm.
- 34 5/8 by 45 1/4 in.
Max Pellequer, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Sam Salz, Inc., New York
Charles R. Lachman, New York (acquired from the above)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Exposition Fauve, 1948
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1962
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny, Musée Maillol & Nice, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Raoul Dufy. Un autre regard, 2003, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
René Jean, Raoul Dufy, Crès, 1931, no. 3
Pierre Courthion, Raoul Dufy, Geneva, 1951, illustrated pl. 29
Maurice Laffaille, Raoul Dufy, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Geneva, 1972, vol. I, no. 187, illustrated p. 161
Raoul Dufy is best known for the colourful Fauve landscapes that he painted between 1905 and 1907. La Foire aux Oignons, painted at the apex of the Fauve movement, is a wonderful example of the exuberance and imagination that characterise these works. This powerful and monumental composition depicts the activity at a vibrant Breton market scene - a rare and unexpected motif at this point in the artist's career. Dufy's oeuvre during this period was primarily composed of paintings devoted to scenes of the beach and of Bastille Day celebrations, and the depiction of Breton peasants was a refreshing departure from the subject matter that had become expected of him. In this extraordinary composition, Dufy turned his attention to the quotidian activities of Breton peasants and transforms an ordinary genre scene into a bold avant-garde composition.
The painting depicts a street market in Northern France, where groups of village folk have gathered to shop for produce from the nearby farms. The subject is reminiscent of the Pontoise peasant scenes by Pissarro, but Dufy has refreshed the theme with a modern twist. The dynamic of a group of elegantly dressed people in a crowded outdoor environment was explore by a number of artists in the late nineteenth century, and the Fauve artists embraced this subject matter in their depictions of the spectacle of regattas, horse races and street festivals. The numerous villagers occupy the lower part of the composition, some shown walking in all directions, some standing and talking in small groups, forming a conglomeration of people that gives the composition a sense of movement and energy.
The green and purple-streaked trees in the background appear just as animated as the people in the marketplace, rising vertically towards the sky, and imbuing the work with a rhythmical pace. Given the Pont-Aven subject matter, the strong, bright palette, and the highly stylised articulation of the figures, Dufy was certainly inspired by the symbolist paintings of Gauguin, Bernard and Sérusier. Having moved away from the hectic life of Paris, all of these artists were fascinated with the simple life-style they found in Brittany, and their paintings of this region usually revolve around the subject of the inhabitants' everyday activities. The highly stylised approach to colour and form, with large areas covered with strong, unmodulated pigment and a flat monochrome background, is also reminiscent of the symbolist paintings of Paul Gauguin, such as the celebrated La Vision du sermon.
Dufy painted La Foire aux Oignons about a year after his travels with Marquet to Le Havre, Honfleur and Trouville. His experience depicting the beaches of northern France had a profound effect on his aesthetic priorities, the benefits of which are exemplified by the present work. Dora Perez-Tibi wrote about Dufy's use of colour around this time: 'The year 1907 saw a blossoming in Dufy's work. While his colour retained its expressive power, he clearly placed more emphasis on composition [...] Dufy's style was becoming increasingly spare and synthetic. Superfluous details are suppressed in favour of a rigorous construction of the composition as a whole, based on a linear plan reduced to an interplay of horizontals and diagonals which make a vast abstract plastic space against which figures stand out in harmony of colour [...] This desire to stress linear rhythm in the construction of his composition is seen in the works painted in 1907 [...] while he remained devoted to a sustained chromaticism, he arranged his forms in a tiered perspective: the greatest emphasis is placed on a rigorous geometrical style which defines the structure repeated throughout the composition' (D. Perez-Tibi, Dufy, London, 1989, pp. 30-31).