Born in 1877, Raoul Dufy was twenty-three years old at the dawn of the 20th century, uniquely poised to experience both the academicism of 19th century painting, epitomized by his lessons at Léon Bonnat's atelier, and the radical innovations of the coming age. At the time the present work was executed, Dufy was living in Paris, working at 31 Quai Bourbon, and associating with Emile-Othon Friesz, Albert Marquet and Georges Braque, among others. Unsurprisingly, the earliest traces of both Fauvism's originality of color and Cubism's advances in form can be witnessed in the paintings of Dufy's early Parisian period.
The present painting was executed in 1905, the year critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term "Fauves," designating Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Albert Marquet and Henri Manguin the "wild beasts" of that year's Salon d'Automne. It was also the year Dufy saw Henri Matisse's 1904 Luxe, Calme, et Volupté at the Salon des Indépendants. He was profoundly struck by the large painting, declaring it "a miracle of the creative imagination at play in color and line." The striking colors and dappled brushwork--fiery red strokes to the titular car and tree at left--here vividly recall his elder colleague's influence, lingering Impressionist and incipient Fauvist both. In this vein, John Elderfield writes of the present work: "The Railway Wagon of 1905 was undoubtedly motivated by Matisse's mixed-technique Fauvism" (The "Wild Beasts," Fauvism and Its Affinities, op. cit., p. 66). Stimulated by Matisse's innovative stylistic transition, Le petit wagon beautifully encapsulates Dufy's bold advances in style and color.