In 1910, the year the present work was painted, Dufy returned to Sainte-Adresse, the town on the Normandy coast whose buildings, cliffs, and water had inspired his major transition in 1905-06 from Impressionism to the bright colors and bold outlines of his Fauve manner. Now, Dufy turned anew to the familiar sights of this seaside hamlet to work through another stylistic turning point in his career: his embrace of a cubist-inspired organization of space and volume. Like many of his colleagues, the painter had found inspiration for this new direction at the Cézanne retrospective at the 1907 Salon d'Automne. The following year, he joined Braque at L'Estaque, and the two painters rendered the local trees and hillsides in rigorously juxtaposed, simplified planes. Commenting on Dufy's selective adoption of cubist methods, Dora Perez-Tibi has stated: "While Braque, like Picasso, was to take his experiments further, towards an almost hermetic analysis of forms--conveying their internal structures in an explosion of facets on the surface of the canvas, the source of the cubist aesthetic--Dufy would go on to rediscover the spirit of the older painter's method, and intensify his experiments with the expressive possibilities of space that Cézanne's aesthetic offered to him" (in Raoul Dufy, London, 1989, p. 37).
Les maisons rouges de Sainte-Adresse spotlights Dufy's incorporation of cubist techniques into a distinctly personal style. In this work, a concentrated arrangement of houses, towers, and trees rises from the center of a hilly landscape below a bright blue sky. Though the dense composition is largely free of perspective and relies on an architectonic structuring of space in superimposed planes, what distinguishes Dufy's work from that of Braque and Picasso is that was that he preserves the recognizable character of his forms. Here, Dufy also eschews the restricted palette of greens and ochres that he briefly adopted in 1908, applying instead intense Fauve colors to a system of staggered planes. His short, parallel brushstrokes lend a dynamic quality to the flat construction of geometrical forms, revealing his investigation of form and space in a brightly saturated, Cézanne-inspired variation of the cubist style that was closely related to, yet always distinct from mainstream Cubism.
The strong lines and colors of the present painting also reflect Dufy's preoccupation with woodcuts and textile design in 1910; the constructive brush strokes that characterize his landscapes of Sainte-Adresse mirror his work with a penknife and gouge in relief engravings on wood. To him, these woodcuts represented the most complete expression of his new ideas on the interpenetration of planes. Having become engrossed in Medieval woodcut techniques three years prior, Dufy began printing his woodcuts on dress fabrics in 1910. This bold move attracted the interest of the fashion designer Paul Poiret, who set him up in a studio in Montmartre and gave him free rein to develop new patterns. Fascinated with the crossover between decorative and fine arts, Dufy regarded this new endeavor as a parallel to his oil paintings. As Jacques Lassaigne has noted: "He was convinced that the order of color he had hit on as early as 1908 could logically be applied in the field of decoration, and that gleaming colors printed on silks would strike home much more effectively than oil-paintings on canvas" (in Raoul Dufy, Geneva, 1972, p. 33).