Raoul Dufy'’s immersion in the glittering world of the Parisian beau monde led him from Nice'’s Promenade des Anglais, along the Mediterranean coastline and up to the paddocks of Deauville, where the present work is situated. Wholly dedicated to documenting the life of leisure as enjoyed by Parisians whose peregrinations took them about the country in step with the change of seasons, Dufy proved himself a draughtsman and a colourist of the first rank.
The subject of the horse races, though Dufy experimented with it as early as 1913, did not take on a primary importance in his oeuvre until the early 1920s. An unprecedented time of glamour, it was the haute couture designer Paul Poiret who first introduced Dufy to the racetracks and the subject quickly became an important theme in the artist's work. At first Dufy was urged by Poiret to concentrate his depictions on Poiret'’s models as they coyly twirled their parasols and flirted with the racehorse owners. Soon Dufy was enchanted by every aspect of the races, including the before and after preparations, the exhilarating dynamism of the race itself and the colourful spectators amidst the dazzling surroundings.
In Deauville, le départ, a group of gentlemen, presumably the serious spectators with bets on the line, lean eagerly against the rails to follow the progress of their favourite horse. Indicated by a swath of a black watercolour, this compositional device serves to separate the spectators from the racetrack, as well as illustrating Dufy's penchant for the tone. As he once remarked to a biographer, 'The sun as its zenith is black... one is blinded by it and sees nothing... For me it is black that dominates, one must begin with black, and attempt a transposition, a composition that finds its luminosity in colour contrasts' (quoted in S. Hunter, Dufy, London, 1958, p. 6). Set against a backdrop of sprightly puffs of clouds and trees in full bloom, the spectators dot the landscape at right in tones of blue and violet.