Horses were the life-long passion of Raoul Dufy. No other animal recurs so frequently in the history of art, yet Dufy was one of the few to explore their potential across book illustration, fabric design and painting.
The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles is attributed with coining two well-known ‘isms’: Fauvism and Cubism. Neither were intended as a compliment. Reviewing the 1905 Salon d’Automne, he dismissed Matisse and Derain’s offerings as the work of ‘wild beasts’. Fauvism later came to describe other artists like Georges Rouault, Maurice de Vlaminck and Raoul Dufy (1877–1953). Before he set upon his own distinctive approach to picture-making in the late 1910s, Dufy went through several different phases, beginning with a plein air beachside Impressionist manner and later following the decorative simplifications of Matisse. His association with the Fauves is best symbolised by the charming wood-cut engravings he made for Guillaume Apollinaire’s bestiary poems.
Whether or not Dufy was aware of this venerable history, the horse paintings of Degas were of much greater significance to his own imagining of the horse than these less French precedents. Degas caught the agitated movements and listless energy of the animal and some of his pictures give meaning to the phrase ‘horseplay’.
Dufy’s images also capture this wild freedom. Dans les prairies de l’Eure depicts a scene in rural Normandy, animated by the grazing and galloping of five horses. They are unbridled, if not wild. There is no fixed perspective, a post-Cubist development, and the landscape appears to wrap around the horses. The hatching of Dufy’s crayon encompasses the fields and the animals, making both shimmer with implied movement.