To be included in the forthcoming Kees van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared by Jacques Chalom Des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
When Kees van Dongen visited Spain and North Africa at the end of 1910 and beginning of 1911, the experience greatly influenced him. He had been Paris-based for so long that this exposure to the exoticism and bright light of Southern Europe and North Africa had a marked effect on a man used to the confected Orientalism of the cabarets of the French capital and the electric lights of the theatre and dressing rooms. The Fauve palette which had gradually darkened over the recent years was reignited. This remains the case in La gitane. Here, a woman, by implication Spanish yet resembling the almost archetypal Muse figures of Van Dongen's Paris paintings, is standing in a self-assured position, her arms on her hips, her mouth parted in humour. Van Dongen has painted her lips, dress and the flowers in her hair with a vivid red, a flash of passionate colour against the blue of the sky and the earth tones of the buildings and the 'plaza de toros' or bullring in the background. Van Dongen is clearly celebrating this woman, a self-confident character reminiscent of the women of the demi-monde who had so fascinated him in Paris, yet, who is here presented against a turquoise sky and the ochre edifices.
Looking at La gitane, one can see Van Dongen's dedication to the female subject as an antidote for the ills of the world, a concept all the more pertinent considering the date ascribed to this painting of 1917-18, at the tail end of the First World War when the shots fired by Big Bertha had caused many of the artists still resident in Paris to flee. 'All women have their beauty, their charm that I exalt,' Van Dongen explained in 1921. 'Beauty is eternal, like a bouquet of flowers or like life, that is to say, excessively fugitive... a picture must be something that exalts life, for the depths of life are sad and sombre... it is for this reason that we wish for beauty which is light, which is for always' (Van Dongen, quoted in G. Diehl, Van Dongen, trans. S. Winston, New York, 1968, p. 70).