Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)
Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)

Portrait de M. Dufresne

Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)
Portrait de M. Dufresne
oil on canvas
21½ x 18 in. (54.6 x 46 cm.)
Painted in 1907
Estate of the artist.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Sonia Delaunay Welt der Kunst, September 2009, p. 19 (illustrated, p. 18).

Lot Essay

Richard Riss has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

Portrait de M. Dufresne belongs to the group of vivid portraits that Sonia Delaunay executed in the years following her arrival to Paris in 1905. Barely twenty years old, and intent on taking in the lessons that the vibrant city had to offer, the painter enrolled at the Académie de la Palette in Montparnasse. However, her true education took place at the exhibitions and galleries that displayed the latest offerings of the French avant-garde. In 1905 alone, these included public showings of Cézanne's Les Grandes baigneuses, over 45 drawings and paintings by Van Gogh at the Salon des Indépendants, canvases by Gauguin in the rue Laffitte, and significantly, new works by Matisse, Derain, and others at the Salon d'Automne in October, where the exasperated critic Louis Vauxcelles dubbed them les fauves. Delaunay later acknowledged the stimulus that Matisse, Van Gogh, and Gauguin provided for her, stating: "It was from that very strong desire to go past Fauvism that my works from that epoch were born" (quoted in Sonia Delaunay, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1980, p. 18). She soon responded to the strong outlines and bold colors of these painters in her own work, fusing their influence into a unique artistic expression that she described as "an extreme exaltation of color with complete flatness" (quoted in A. Cohen, ed., The New Art of Color: the Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, p. 194).

The present painting, one of many portraits that Delaunay executed in 1907, depicts the French artist Charles Dufresne (1876-1938), a painter and printmaker who first entered the exhibition circuit in Paris at the turn of the century. A known dandy, Dufresne appears here immaculately coiffed and wearing a well cut suit and stylish bowtie. Shortly after posing for this canvas, Dufresne won the Prix de l'Afrique du Nord and moved to Algeria, where he spent the majority of his life and created most of his works. His portrait vividly reflects Delaunay's effort to give color and contour increased expressive autonomy, a challenge made more dynamic by her selection of portraiture, a genre reliant on physical likeness, as the medium for this artistic experimentation. Here, she reduces her palette to tertiary hues of red, yellow, and blue, underscoring her growing affinity for what she would later define as "pure colors." For the artist, these basic hues evoked simplicity and honesty, as she recalled: "These are the colors from my childhood, from the Ukraine. Memories of peasant weddings in my country, in which the red and green dresses decorated with many ribbons, billowed in dance" (quoted in, exh. cat., op. cit, 1980, p. 213). In her portraits of Philomène from the same year and the silent film actor Charles de Rochefort from 1908 (fig. 1) Delaunay juxtaposes a figure defined by flat planes of color against a vibrantly patterned background, a method for creating depth without modeling that she likely observed in works by Matisse as well as paintings by Bonnard and Vuillard. In the present work, however, Delaunay radically harmonizes sitter and setting by using the same yellow tones for his face and the presumed wall behind him, breaking the line between background and the all important locus of a sitter's identity with mere contour and the barest of shading.

(fig. 1) Sonia Delaunay, Portrait de Charles de Rochefort, 1908. Sold, Christie's New York, 4 May 2010, lot 45.

Barcode: transfer 2785 2880

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