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French, ca. 1918

Bridging the distinct worlds of fine arts and fashion, painter Raoul Dufy (1877–1953) was a pioneer in bringing his highly decorative yet artistic textiles to the most avant-garde French couturiers of the Art Deco era. Dufy's successful early collaborations with Paul Poiret led to an exclusive relationship with Bianchini-Férier, one of Lyon's premier textile firms. During his tenure there from 1912 through 1928, Dufy created a range of textiles for both furnishing and dress. He worked prolifically, leaving an archive of approximately four thousand designs; in three years alone he created over three hundred patterns that were made into fabrics, and many more preparatory sketches that were never produced. While some of Dufy's designs were translated into jacquard weaves, most were block-printed—with his penchant for oversize arabesques and large repeats, Dufy felt limited by the spatial constraints of other printing techniques. Wood-block-printed textiles were in keeping with Dufy's illustration artwork and also with the trend for bold, handcrafted fabrics in Art Deco fashions.

Whether woven or printed, Dufy was able to convey his joie de vivre through floral patterns, and Les Althéas demonstrates this with flair. For the painter flowers were, in his own words, "…the natural vehicles of colour…the first motifs." The freshness of blooming hibiscus is captured on the shimmering surface of this block-printed satin; a densely nestled arrangement of six flowers interlocks repeatedly in all directions, forming a mosaic of brilliant pinks and blues. Although the repeat was deliberately orchestrated, the overall composition maintains an air of spontaneity. Through variations in color saturation, the careful balance of shapes and soft, calligraphic outlines, Dufy expressed his vision of abstraction in nature—a vision that was simultaneously fashionable and artistic. Perhaps Gertrude Stein best defined Dufy’s creative essence, both in the fine and applied arts: "Dufy is pleasure. Think of the color 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 color that is in Dufy…."

This example is an original document from the Bianchini-Férier archives. Les Althéas was exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1977 (catalogue no. 1240), and also at a special exhibition of Dufy's textiles in Honfleur, illustrated in the show’s catalogue Raoul Dufy: La Passion des Tissus (1993), p. 97.

43" H x 38.5" W (detail shown)

Block-Printed Silk Satin by Raoul Dufy
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