Jean Dufy came from a family of nine children brought up in an artistic and, especially, musical environment. By the age of 14, Dufy was painting stage sets for family plays; his talents were recognised and nurtured by his older brother Raoul and the latter's friend Othon Friesz. He enrolled at the college of fine arts in Le Havre, where Raoul, Friesz and Georges Braque had also studied, but he abandoned his studies early on and moved to Paris to be with his brother who ultimately proved to be his mentor. He travelled extensively in Western Europe and North Africa. He served in a cavalry regiment during World War I, but by 1920 he was back in Paris, where he exhibited examples of his painting at the Salon d'Automne, of which he was already a member. He produced designs for the silk factories in Lyons and for the porcelain works in Limoges.
Dufy painted in oils, watercolours and occasionally Indian ink. Inevitably, his body of work is compared to that of his brother Raoul and, as far as choice of subject matter is concerned, they are often similar: views of Paris and other French cities, circus scenes, horse races, beach scenes, orchestras and the like. Jean Dufy's orchestra scenes have proved particularly useful in identifying his artistic signature compared with that of his brother Raoul, of whom it has frequently been said that he painted in a lively 'staccato' style, whereas Jean (himself a gifted classical guitarist and jazz musician) painted in a style that was smoother and more fluent, using deep blues interspersed with reds and greens, with points of yellow creating the effects of light. His purpose was to capture the overall impact of a scene rather than its uniqueness and individuality. He spent many years in the comparative seclusion of his farm near Nantes on the River Loire, where he painted canvases that exhibit a freshness and enthusiasm that he clearly shared with his more famous brother.
A Jean Dufy retrospective was held at the Reine Gallery in New York in 1966, two years after his death.