Bathed in rich, verdant colour, Raoul Dufy’s La Marne depicts a segment of the river Marne, on the eastern outskirts of Paris. Painted circa 1925, La Marne is one of a series of works that portray this leisurely, tranquil scene. Filled with figures engaged in a variety of activities, swimming, rowing, sailing and socialising, the present work encapsulates the central characteristics of Dufy’s distinctive style, which embodies the bold use of light and colour.
Framed by the viaduct to the left, the composition centres on the activity surrounding the boathouse. Oarsmen had featured in Dufy’s work as early as 1919, however it was not until several years later that he had begun to paint them on the river Marne. With broad brushstrokes, Dufy has flooded the scene with rich colour, over which he has drawn the animated outlines of figures, as well as compositional details, such as the vegetation and architectural features. Vertical bands of different hues of green denote the areas of light and shade within the scene. This visual effect of divided bands of colour recalls the appearance of the printed fabrics that Dufy was designing at this time for the French silk manufacturer, Bianchini-Férier, in which the design was printed onto different bands of ungraduated colour, without any shading. It has been acknowledged that La Marne and the other works of the series demonstrate how Dufy’s multifaceted artistic interests in a variety of mediums informed and influenced one another.
The bright, saturated colour here creates a sense of luminosity, filling the scene with light, and evoking the sense of pleasure-filled, idyllic serenity. For Dufy, light and colour were the central components of painting; he described, ‘The colour captures the light that forms and animates the group as a whole. Every object or group of objects is placed within its own area of light and shade, receiving its share of reflections and being subjected to the arrangement decided by the artist’ (Dufy, quoted in ibid., p. 150). As can be seen in La Marne, Dufy has used colour as an expression of light, so unifying the composition and evoking the charming atmosphere that pervades the painting.
La Marne was painted during a period in which Dufy was enjoying increased artistic renown as a highly acclaimed painter. One of the leading artists of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, Dufy received wide praise from a number of critics and writers, including André Salmon and Christian Zervos. Gertrude Stein, poet, writer, art collector and central figure within the Parisian art world, wrote of Dufy in 1949, ‘One must meditate about pleasure. Dufy is pleasure. Think of the colour and it is not that and the line and it is not that, but it is that which is all together and which is the colour that is in Dufy’ (G. Stein, quoted in B. Robertson & S. Wilson, eds., Raoul Dufy, exh. cat., London, 1983-84, p. 67).