Kees van Dongen (1877-1968) was a Dutch-French artist known for his vibrant paintings and prints of almond-eyed women and bourgeois leisure scenes. Some of the painter’s most famous works depict fashionable celebrities, including the French actress Brigitte Bardot.
Born Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen on January 26, 1877 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, he studied at the Akademie voor Beeldende Kunsten of Rotterdam, where he created somber-toned landscapes inspired by Rembrandt. Financed by his father, the artist moved to Paris in 1897 where he frequented the bars of Montmartre. Affiliated with the Fauvists Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, and André Derain, Van Dongen’s use of color and expressive line became integral to his style.
In 1899 he settled permanently with his future wife Guus in Paris where their daughter Dolly was born in 1905. Van Dongen painted the world of the circus, the nightlife of Paris and sensual nudes. With the erotic charge in many of these paintings, he distinguished himself from the other Fauvists. Although he was regarded by the Dutch as a French artist, he was considered a stranger in France, where he was naturalized in 1929.
After the First World War Van Dongen divorced from Guus in 1921. Under the influence of his new partner, the fashion director Lea Alvin (Jasmy Jacob), Van Dongen developed the lush colors of his Fauvist style. This earned him a solid reputation with the French bourgeoisie and upper class, where he was in demand for his portraits. As a fashionable portraitist, he received commissions from Arletty, Louis Barthou, Sacha Guitry, Leopold III of Belgium, Anna de Noailles, Madame Grès and Maurice Chevalier among others.
With a playful cynicism he remarked of his popularity as a portraitist with high society women: “The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished.” This remark is reminiscent of another of his sayings: “Painting is the most beautiful of lies“.
This painting is of a high society woman dressed in pink and with a fashionable haircut. She is painted in the typical style of Van Dongen. He used bright colors, gave the lady almond shaped eyes, an elongated neck and painted her with her beautiful pearl necklace.
After being painted, the painting hung on the wall of Van Dongen's studio. The lady’s portrait can be seen on a photo of Kees van Dongen's studio in 5 Rue Juliette Lamber in Paris. He used this studio from 1922 until his divorce from Jasmy Jacob in 1932.
Various paintings can be seen on this photo. Behind the painting on the easel is the upper part of a 1920 painting, La Baigneuse de Deauville. The nude above our portrait is Tableau ou Le Châle espagnol from 1913 for which Guus, the first wife of Kees van Dongen, posed. The painting on the easel was still hanging in Kees van Dongen's studio in 1952, according to a photo from that year. This lady’s portrait with pearl necklace thus hangs for some time between the paintings that were cherished by Van Dongen and remained in his possession. The walls of his studio were always hung with paintings and it was here he received clients, hosted parties for the Parisian upper class and where this lady posed for her portrait.
Notice of inclusion in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Kees Van Dongen by Jacques Chalom des Cordes, dated 2 October 2000.