The subject of music first appeared in Dufy's oeuvre as early as 1902 and is explored further in his Cubist years and, later, in the 1920s, but it was not until the 1940s that the artist explored the motif in all its variety with the close observation and eye for detail which one associates with his series of horse racing and boating pictures. Dufy often attended the rehearsals of the Société du Conservatoire des Concerts Colonne, making innumerable sketches of the musicians, their instruments and the endless variation of movement and expression which he would then employ in his finished compositions. Dufy was particularly concerned with the depiction of painterly rhythm and movement, creating harmonies and cadences that echo the creation of the music within. Dufy's friend Pablo Casals told him 'I cannot tell what piece your orchestra is playing, but I know which key it is written in' (quote in D. Perez-Tibi, Dufy, London, 1989, p. 292).
Painted in 1948, Le quintette rouge et bleu depicts a smaller group of musicians than many of his large orchestral compositions in which the sense of aural grandeur is visually represented by a frenetic sense of movement among Dufy's musicians and instruments. By contrast the present work presents a calmer, more intimate scene in which the pictorial interplay of the musicians and their instruments reflects their harmonic relationships. Dufy's sense of couleur-lumière, his primary aesthetic preoccupation, where colour plays an integral role in both the composition and the overall sense and feeling of the finished work, greatly adds to our understanding of the piece and the mood of the music. 'Dufy reproduces the calm atmosphere of chamber music with consummate artistry. His series of Quintets (between 1946 and 1948) assumes the colour of each of the musical variations. Violet, red, blue, orange: the arrangement of the quintet is painted monotonally. Dufy understands music so well that he succeeds, through the subtle play of his style, colour and lighting effects, in arousing our emotions through his lyrical interpretation' (ibid., p. 298).