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Art: Biggest Something

2 minute read

Wielding the largest paintbrush in the world—something like a camel’s hair street sweeper—chunky, grey-haired Raoul Dufy has been standing on a stepladder in an abandoned garage outside Paris for many months, while Jacques Maroger, technical adviser to the Louvre, stood below stirring basins full of pigment, water, alcohol and nut oil with an egg beater.

Last week what they had been working on was completed: a mural for the Paris Exposition of 1937, “largest painting in the world” showing in brilliant blobs of pink, green, yellow, purple and brown the history of electricity from Aristotle to 20th Century Mme Curie.

Whether or not any oldtime panoramas were bigger, Artist Dufy’s painting is the biggest something. Already 1,200 Ib. of oil and paint have been spread on 250 separate wooden panels to make a picture 195 ft. long, 30 ft. high which will be the central feature of the Palace of Electricity for the Paris Fair. Already arrangements have been made to remove all the panels and ship them to the U. S. as soon as the Paris Fair closes.

Heavily art-conscious is France’s largest public utility group, the C. P. D. E. (Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite). Its advertising booklets were among the first to recognize the talents of U. S. photographer Man Ray. The company has sponsored many younger architects and artists, but no choice could be happier for a monumental exhibition mural than vivacious, talented Raoul Dufy.

Born 57 years ago in Havre of a solid, bourgeois family, he became a clerk in his father’s importing house, started to paint as a hobby about 1895. Five years later he went to Paris to make art his profession, stuck to conservative Beaux Arts training until the summer of 1905 when he saw his first picture by Henri Matisse. “Confronted by that picture,” said Raoul Dufy, “I understood all the new reason for painting.”

Raoul Dufy has never lost his enthusiasm for Matisse’s brilliant color and uncanny sense of design, but unlike other Matisse disciples he did not imitate any part of his technique. Raoul Dufy, and later his Brother Jean, worked out a sort of shorthand of painting with rapidly sketched trees and houses blocked in colors deliberately off-register. This genre has been seized avidly by smartchart editors and advertisers. Museums know his work: even the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a Dufy.

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