By 1905, Raoul Dufy had been painting for nearly a decade in an Impressionist idiom, rendering the nuances of the northern light around his hometown of Le Havre in muted, pastel tones, much as Boudin and Monet, two other natives of Le Havre, had done before him. But in March of that year, shortly before his twenty-eighth birthday, Dufy experienced a revelation. At the Salon des Indépendants, he was awestruck by Matisse’s Luxe, calme, et volupté (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris), with its boldly subjective organization of pure color. “At the sight of that picture,” he recalled, “I understood the new raison d’être of painting, and Impressionist realism lost all its charm for me as I looked at this miracle of creative imagination at work in color and line. I immediately grasped the mechanics of art” (quoted in M. Giry, Fauvism: Origins and Development, New York, 1982, p. 135).
Back in Le Havre, Dufy put these lessons to work in his own art, introducing more vibrant and expressive color into his trademark coastal scenes. “Until then I had created beaches in the Impressionist style, and I had reached the saturation point with them,” he explained. “[Now] I began to examine my tubes of paint and brushes. With these how can I attain not only what I see but that which is, that which exists for me, my reality?” (quoted in J. Freeman, The Fauve Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 94). The sensational Salon d’Automne of 1905–at which the critic Louis Vauxcelles bestowed upon Matisse and his cohorts the derisive sobriquet Les Fauves (“The Wild Beasts”)–confirmed to Dufy that he was on the right path, and by early the next year he was working in a full-blown Fauve manner, applying pure, unmodulated pigments in bold, impetuous strokes.
Dufy painted the present canvas in the summer of 1906, at the very height of the Fauve moment. While many of his Fauve colleagues opted to go south for the season (Matisse to Collioure, for example, and Derain to L’Estaque), Dufy remained in his native Normandy, painting alongside Marquet at Le Havre, Trouville, Honfleur, Dieppe, and Fécamp. Unlike the Midi, this was the Impressionists’ home turf, which Dufy now consciously re-interpreted with brilliantly heightened color. Here, he depicts the Casino Marie-Christine at Sainte-Adresse, a resort suburb of Le Havre, appealingly situated on a high coastal bluff just three miles north of the city center. Although Dufy had painted the casino’s wooden jetty and bathing beach repeatedly since 1901 (Laffaille, nos. 52-60, 132-133), this is his earliest known depiction of the building itself, with its oblong footprint, columnar arcade, and high surmounting dome; he would paint the casino three more times in a cubist idiom between 1910 and 1912 (Laffaille, nos. 319-320, 322).
In the present Casino, Dufy seems to revel in the freedom and excitement of his newfound Fauve technique. The sky is a broad plane of highly saturated blue, rendered all the more intense by its juxtaposition to the creamy white expanse of the building façade and the vermillion stripes of the flags. These flat, even passages of color contrast with the exuberant variety of strokes–hatch marks, arcs, squiggles, and circles–that Dufy uses to describe the bustling crowd of parasol-toting vacationers in the foreground. “He applied his colors unmixed onto the canvas as if in a feverish hurry, striving to convey his emotions as simply and directly as possible,” Marcel Giry has concluded. “The blots of primary colors run over the picture surface like the scrawl of an agitated handwriting or the notes of a passionate symphony” (op. cit., 1982, p. 135).