A designer, painter, and poster maker. Jean Dupas was the second most prominent figure next to Tamara de Lempicka of the Art Deco style movement. He received his formal art training from the esteemed Bordeaux School which was famous for producing notable artists such as Rene Buthaud, Raphael Delorme, Robert Eugene Pougheon, Alfred Janniot, and Jean Gabriel Domergue. Dupas was particularly famous for his Normandie art work, which is considered as the last masterpiece that portrayed the stylistic influences of French Expressionism and Art Deco.
Jean Dupas was an award-winning artist who had been contracted by major fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. His career started to blossom when he won the Grand Prix de Rome competition of 1910 and thus was sent to study arts in the Eternal City for four years. Some of the works he produced in Rome were exhibited at the Salon de la Societe des Artistes Francais. From the very beginning his style had been a fusion of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which made him suitable for advertising and decorating.
It did not take long for Dupas to reach international fame after he began exhibiting at the Paris Salon. He was commissioned by wealthy art collectors, magazine publishers and art patrons such as Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann for whom he decorated an entire pavilion in 1925. Apparently, his career revolved around the commercial arts specializing in both mural and easel painting. His figures are almost sculptural, most of which are women with long necks, narrow noses, porcelain skin, and wavy hair.
Some examples of Dupas’ major visual art works included La Femme en Rouge (1927), History of Navigation (1934), Woman Seated in Front of Portrait, La Danse, Deco Scene (1929), and Jeune fille aux fleurs (circa 1940’s).
Jean Dupas was born on February 2, 1882 in Bordeaux, France. Little is known about his childhood and his family though. He was introduced to art by his early Masters Albert Besnard and Carolus Duran, both of whom he met at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux. His ability to afford formal art training is suggestive of his family’s well-off status. Dupas received the best art training possible at an early age and this foreshadowed his highly successful career later on.
In 1910, Jean Dupas bagged the Grand Prix de Rome which was still considered as the most prestigious art competition in France at the time. He then spent the next four years in Italy and would have painted Le Danse, a culmination of his studies about Les Pigeons Blanc. Le Danse was to be his last major work while in Rome. It was a symbolic event in his life for Le Danse marked the end of his stay at Villa Medici and a new beginning of a fruitful career.
Dupas submitted Le Danse to the 1922 Salon des Artistes Francais exhibition. It was well-received by the audience and as a result, it solidified his reputation in the industry as a fast-emerging painter. Art critic Romain Lefebvre thought that the painting resembles the ‘Turkish Bath’ by Ingres, assuming that it was inspired by it directly. However, Le Danse had touches of the Art Deco style determined by the painter’s “stylization of the figures, almost sculptural, with their long necks and bent wrists forming large arabesque movement.”
Additionally, during the early 1920’s, Dupas worked for Rene Buthaud as a porcelain designer. However, his job at the porcelain factory would not last long as his interest shifted to poster making, tapestry and stained glass painting.
In 1912, art patron and industrialist Henri Fruges commissioned Dupas to renovate the Palais Ideal townhouse. Fruges particularly wanted the renovation design to depict modern art because he wanted the palais to be representative of contemporary French art, if ever, it would be the first edifice to have displayed such an artistic style at the time. Such a large commission would require a team of art decorators though, so Dupas wasn’t alone in renovating the townhouse as he was joined by Jean Dunand, Daum Freres, Rene Buthaud, and Edgar Brandt.
During this period, Dupas’ style ranges from neoclassicism to contemporary art. This style was liked by Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar the most, hiring him to produce a series of posters. In 1925 he was invited to join the prestigious Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. For the said exhibition Dupas executed Les Perruches, another masterpiece which was commissioned by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. It was the main display of the exhibition, hung right at the center of the room. The painting depicts five women stylized in neo-classical and mannerist techniques. Each figure has a symbolic meaning such as Jealousy, Innocence, Trivial Love, Generosity, and True Love.
Aside from easel painting and poster making, Jean Dupas was also known for painting frescos of several interiors in the country. He was the artist behind the magnificent murals found at Ile-de-France and Liberte. In 1934 he executed a large-scale mural for the SS Normandie depicting the history of navigation and then he designed verre eglomise panels for the Parisian Grand Salon. Some parts of the murals are now taken care by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Forbes Galleries in New York City.
For an art critic, in order to have a better understanding of Dupas’ art, he or she must make a close study of his murals. Upon closer inspection an artist may categorize it under the peinter-decorateur category which was the title given to many artists of the 19th century. In the said period, Paris was subjected to major renovations and redecorations, and come 20th century the situation would be no different.
Albert Besnard, one of Dupas’ earliest art teachers, was a renowned decorateur of his generation. His style leans towards the academic neo-classicism and favored depicting historical and allegorical scenes through grand scale murals. The goal was to deliver a grander message that the public would easily see and comprehend. And as Dupas became Besnard’s student, it is safe to assume that Dupas acquired his impressionist taste from his master.
It is also worth mentioning that several post-impressionism artists were fond of mural painting as a sort of making connections with art deco. Jean Dupas was one of those artists who were able to continue this tradition and ushered in art deco movement in the early 1920’s. He did this by designing interiors of many buildings in Paris and eventually his style became the epitome of the said art movement. Perhaps, the only disadvantage of mural painting is its susceptibility to fires and weathering, and thus, only a few of Dupas’ murals have survived. Two of them are chef d-oeuvres in the Grand Salon of the Normandy and the French Pavilion.
In 1928 Jean Dupas decorated the walls of the Church of Saint-Espirit in Paris. However, his focus was not on fresco painting entirely as designing posters had also captured his interest. And so he tried to concentrate on poster design in which he created bulks of posters for various commercial centers in the US and England. After receiving a commercial success in this field, he then tried again to re-commit to interior decorating by accepting the commission by the SS Normandy in 1934 to 1935. For the steamship Normandy, he executed the monumental stained glass window and the success of this work further cemented the significance of Art Deco in 20th century Western art.
Jean Dupas’ artistic style is primarily based on the concepts of Cubism. This is also one of the reasons why his works are comparable to Van Dongen, Leger, and de la Fresnaye. He treated space as a way to create surreal landscapes and backgrounds for his figures. As for the figures, they would be outlined in distorted shapes yet with classical elongation.
Dupas was particularly the go-to-artist of advertisers and commercial art traders all over the Western world. Thus, he was responsible for a huge amount of posters and other promotional materials during the Modern Art period. One should not be surprised if his works are seen in some pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines as well as in various catalogs. One thing that these magazine publishers liked about Dupas is his unique female figures, all of which wear a cropped hair, a pair of almond-shaped eyes, small mouth but with full lips, elongated neck, and a narrow nose.
In 1941 Jean Dupas’ prominence and reputation would be enough to elect him as a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts. His style would remain neo-classical with influences from Raphael and Ingres, which was very typical of an artist produced by a Bordeaux art school. Through him, Art Deco had absorbed a new set of characteristics such as optimism, sophistication, and idealism compared to the decadent and self-destructive themes of Tamara de Lempicka.
Jean Dupas died on 1964 at the age of 82. Andy Warhol is one of the many artists who were fond of Dupas’ works. Warhol is said to have collected the Bordeaux painter’s prints and paintings extensively.