A Painting by Raoul Dufy and its Study Acquired by the Musée Malraux in Le Havre

1. Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
Day’s End in Le Havre, 1901
Oil on Canvas - 99 x 135 cm
Le Havre, MuMa - musée d’Art moderne André Malraux
Photo : MuMa

9/6/13 - Acquisitions - Le Havre, Musée Malraux - A Dufy canvas is usually easy to recognize even from far away with its characteristic colors and forms. However, a very different painting was acquired by the Musée Malraux in 2012, exhibited only since April 2013 after several months of research (ill. 1). The work presented several "shady" zones, in every sense of the word. Since the date next to the signature was hard to read, it was not clear if it was Day’s End in Le Havre, exhibited during the painter’s very first show in Paris in 1901 or Evening Effect. Quai Videcoq, displayed in Le Havre in 1902. As it turns out, the canvas acquired by the Musée Malraux was indeed from 1901 while Quai Videcoq, with similar tones, corresponds probably to a work from the Musée Calvet.
Here Dufy illustrated the quai Colbert in the port of Le Havre, animated with dock workers returning home after a long day’s labor ; the ground seems all the muddier in contrast to the blue sky reflected in the water while the dying light of the horizon is underscored with black lines, masts and ship chimneys, some seemingly rising from coal heaps. We also catch a glimpse of the first electrical cranes supplied by the Caillard company in 1897. The artist thus took his first steps in the artistic world with a realist and social subject, using a palette which was as severe as his theme, depicting modernity already imbued with social protest. The dockers’ strike of August 1910 was to leave a lasting effect on the city.

2. Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
Day’s End in Le Havre, 1900-1901
Oil on Canvas - 65 x 81 cm
Le Havre, MuMa - musée d’Art moderne André Malraux
Photo : MuMa

There are two known preparatory studies for this work, one was auctioned in 1961 [1] and has almost no human figures, mere silhouettes perceived in the background ; the second one (ill. 2), acquired shortly after the painting by the Musée Malraux and on view next to it, makes more room for the persons who are backlit in front of a horizon shining with the setting sun. The much darker final version, is teeming with workers and small figures, more than in the studies, including also a bearded old man in the foreground.
This work, exhibited at the Salon des Artistes français, was barely noticed, except in an article appearing in the local newspaper, Le Petit Havre : "There is an idea, no talent yet." [2]. As for the 1902 painting, it was harshly criticized.
This is a far cry from the picturesque views of the old port which the artist, a native son of Le Havre, represented in watercolors around 1900 ; they still reflect an Impressionist influence, with an emphasis on the water and its reflections. In fact, Monet also depicted the dockers in what is a rather atypical painting for him, offering a wide and distant view of the coal workers, devoid of the social statement evident in Dufy’s scene.
After remaining for a considerable time in the family, the painting sold for 80,000 € in 2012, followed by the study in 2013 for 20,000 € at the Parisian gallery run by Fanny Guillon-Laffaille, the expert on the artist, and was acquired by the Musée Malraux with the help of the Amis du musée, the city of Le Havre and the FRAM. This Evening Effect rounds out the museum collections, which already hold seventy works bequeathed in 1963 by Raoul Dufy’s wife.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 11 juin 2013


[1] Reproduced in black and white in the exhibition catalogue Pissarro dans les ports. Normandie impressioniste, p. 126.

[2] Exhibition catalogue, Pissarro dans les ports. Normandie impressioniste, p. 130.

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