Charles Dufresne, Watercolor-Gouache "Oriental reverie", 1920

Watercolor and gouache on paper - Ref 02108

by Charles DUFRESNE (1876-1938)

France, ca.1920


with frame : 69x59.2 cm - 27.2x23.3 inches

view : 51.5x42.3 cm - 20.3x16.7 inches

Signed lower right "dufresne" (see photo)

Golden frame with gold leaf

In 1910, Charles Dufresne competes with a pastel for the Prize Abd-el-Tif Prize, he won. He resides for two years at the villa Abd-el-Tif in Algiers. Free from all material constraints, he discovers the light and the colors of North Africa as well as a modern approach of the artistic practice. He then passes from pastel to watercolor to translate his wonder at this oriental dream, then oil painting. Decisive, these two years will mark his career in an indelible way. After the war, around 1920, in his studio on the Ile Saint-Louis, he painted in lush colors Oriental scenes from his imagination and memories.

Charles Dufresne is a very great colourist and a master in the art of composing a painting. He proposes here a place of relaxation, idyllic of simplicity, that he wants rid of any negative sign or distressing. He occupies the whole surface of the support, by summarily indicating the elements of a country scenery in which he accumulates the living beings in a harmonious and studied way. The absence of real depth, based on two superimposed planes almost mixed, gives a similar value to each of the characters, human or animal. However the diagonal starting from the bottom left corner to the top right corner, separates the humans, which are located in the upper right triangle delimited by this diagonal, animals of the right triangle bottom triangle, to give a solid and meaningful structuring to this composition, suggesting a responsible awareness, loving protection and empathy. The reduced space on two planes evokes the bas-relief, the forms flatten, the model is discreet; there is Gauguin in Dufresne. Only the sheep in the foreground are superimposed representing one and the same characters without self-consciousness. On the other hand, the two thinking, conscious and protective young women stand out from their environment by the contrast of colors, the upper sheep benefiting from a few discreet rings to make the connection between the foreground and the background.

This work brings us back to one of Charles Dufresne's masterpieces, Les Ondines de la Marne (1921). The poetic content may well depart from that of the Ondines, and Dufresne rise from the satiric novella to lyricism and fantasy, narrow forms of relations remain none the less between these two paintings. The position of the shepherdess, country odalisque , is the same, but seen from the front, that the one of the naked woman lying in the foreground of Ondines, a work that caused so much scandal to his presentation, with Le portrait d'Anatole France by Van Dongen, at the Salon of the National Fine Arts at the Grand Palais (Paris) in 1921. Note that the water carrier here replaces the bather. We find the tree covering the characters. In addition, Dufresne uses the same methods to integrate the form with its support: the superposition of the plans and the equality of a lighting, which is not light.

But, in spite of these similarities, this Rêverie orientale differs from Les ondines de la Marne, by the distribution of parts filled and voids more balanced and a quiet order, but first by its chromaticism. The browns and greens are softer, more velvety, more friendly, the use of watercolor and gouache helps with no doubt, but it brings out a feeling of happiness, quietude and peace .

As in the Ondines, Charles Dufresne stuffs the support for what could be likened to a mural. The space thus totally occupied, without sky, intimate as would be an interior, the forms simplified and rounded, bring to the highest levels the feelings of tranquility and security. Of unreal. This gouache watercolor is one of the most successful by Charles Dufresne that we have seen. The perfect expression of the sophisticated poetry of this great painter.

In the sum of three volumes dedicated to French painting for the period from Impressionism to the end of the Second World War (The stages of contemporary French painting, Gallimard, 1946, pages 120 to 138, tome 3), Bernard Dorival devotes a very important chapter to Charles Dufresne, in which he writes:

"It is mainly North Africa that provides him with his themes. He had lived there from 1910 to 1912 as a boarder at Villa Abd-el-Tif ** near Algiers, and it was there that he suddenly found himself. Africa had revealed it to itself, and by 1912 Dufresne had become Dufresne.

Action capital, but curious, and it is important to specify the terms. Although the painter had exposed in 1914 a Spahi that caused a sensation, it is not the Orientalist that the Maghreb gave birth to him. Whether the influence of war had thwarted that of Algeria, or a slow maturation was the law of Dufresne, the painter, when he discovered himself, seemed to have forgotten Africa, that nothing recalled in his first masterpieces, those in his cubist way. It was only long after he left Algiers in 1920 that the artist asked North Africa about the subjects of his paintings. But can it be said that he asked him subjects? It would be more accurate to write: pretexts. It is so long since he left this land that he has assimilated his memories enough to make them an integral part of himself, and by painting their colorful image, he creates a poetic work and not at all descriptive. Dufresne is opposed to orthodox Orientalists, to Dinet for example. They are not truthful spectacles which he paints, of those scenes which retain the painters by a picturesque of bad quality. The life of the Maghreb transfigured by memory is only the springboard of his dream, and there is no essential difference between his imaginary scenes illustrating the fable or the story and those inspired by african life.

(...) If these drawings intended for the elaboration of his compositions copy the reality with an impassive objectivity, his imagination takes again its rights, when he approaches the elaborated work (...) Villa Abd-el-Tif has started going his imagination, which, after a departure slowed by circumstances, political events, the artistic milieu, began at full speed, after 1921, for a rocket-trip, that death alone will interrupt. After - and below Delacroix - Dufresne is the visionary of North Africa, the lyrical in which she triggered the dream. "