Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this painting in his forthcoming Kees Van Dongen catalogue raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Kees van Dongen was one of the greatest chroniclers of glamour and decadence in the 20th Century. His pictures are redolent of the allure and beauty both of the highest circles of society and of the demimonde--those involved in entertainment: dancers, singers and prostitutes. His was a world of sensation and sensuality, and this is perfectly conveyed in the elegant, elongated figures that frolic across the beach and strut along the boardwalk in La plage de Deauville. Resort life is captured in all its glorious ease: a centralized sailboat is blown along the water with waves crashing about, two figures on horseback trot leisurely along the beach, women in swimming suits dance along the ocean's edge and two scantily-clad women stroll along the boardwalk in sumptuous red coats, perhaps departing or returning from a raucous evening.
During the era of Napoleon III, it was essentially Eugène Boudin who raised the image of a leisurely day on the beach to the status of a valid scene for artistic representation, yet Van Dongen appears to be reveling in the very modern pleasures that such activities involve, the modern clothing--or lack thereof--that Boudin's era would not tolerate. La plage de Deauville is therefore an illuminating historical account and celebration of Van Dongen's world and the candid decadence of the period. It is also an exercise and comment within the realms of the history of modern painting and tastes. It is intriguing to compare Van Dongen's portrayal of this scene to those captured with such a difference in sights and in atmosphere by Boudin less than a century earlier. This is a reflection of the long appeal of Deauville as a resort to the French, and especially to the Parisians. Its popularity, initially as a health resort, was established by the construction of a convenient rail link from Paris to nearby Trouville.
In La plage de Deauville, Van Dongen presents the whole spectrum of a beach scene with life by, on and in the water. The spectrum notion is made all the more appropriate considering the boldness of the palette and the expressionistic brushstrokes that he has used in so many areas of the canvas. While the terracotta-red color of the figures on the beach is evocative of the healthy tan of the bathers, it also reflects the influence of Van Dongen's 1910 and 1913 voyages to Egypt. The two glamorous women to the far left of the canvas are emblematic of Van Dongen's bold, psychologically and erotically charged portraits of women, intensified by the vibrant hues of their jewels, makeup and clothing. The two figures at right, more formally and elegantly dressed and both wearing elaborate hats, recall his depictions of the upper-class spending leisurely afternoons at the horse races. Lastly, the composition is anchored and balanced by the stark verticality of a monumental flagpole, topped by a fluttering French flag that truly brands this dynamic painting. In La plage de Deauville, Van Dongen has brought together all aspects and levels of Parisian society, chronicling the exuberance, diversity and elegance of the coastal lifestyle.