Dufy was born in Le Havre in 1877. His interest in and disposition towards painting established themselves very soon. At the age of eighteen he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts of Le Havre where he met Othon Friesz.
Initially he was influenced by the "artists of modernity". Between 1895 and 1898 he painted landscapes and genre scenes at the style of Boudin, Corot and Sisley. In 1899 he moved to Paris and enrolled in the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. There, he attended Léon Bonnat's classes and concentrated on the study of Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists. Fame came for him at the beginning of the 20th century. He exhibited works at the Salon des Artistes Français (1901) and at the Salon des Indépendants (1903).
The year 1905 marked an initial turning-point in his work. He joined the fauvist movement constituted around Matisse. He painted decked streets and many beach scenes. His palette became brighter and his brushstroke freer.
In 1907 he abandoned Fauvism for the Cubist style. He made friends with Picasso, Derain and Léger. In 1910 he made his first prints. He illustrated many books, notably Guillaume Apollinaire's famous Bestiaire (or Cortège d'Orphée), before working with Poiret and Bianchini-Ferrier, a silk manufacturer of Lyon.
In 1919, in the aftermath of the war, Dufy developed a more personal style, characterised by more supple and energetic traits, and brighter colours. He also spent some time in the South of France and travelled around the Mediterranean.
He painted orchestras, seascapes and race courses, and enjoyed expressing joie de vivre and movement. Dufy died in Forcalquier in 1953, leaving a considerable number of works: about three thousand paintings, six thousand watercolours, four thousand large drawings, one thousand five hundred textile projects, etchings, engraved wood, ceramics and even tapestries.