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.
Perhaps no artist captured the crazed and heady atmosphere of the années folles in the 1920s as perfectly as Kees van Dongen. Painted in 1921, Les escarpins mauves is an absorbing, sensual depiction of a woman lying dressed yet in some form of disarray, and as such serves as a perfect introduction to the world of this Dutch-born artist who had made the society hotspots of France his home and indeed his inspiration. It is a mark of the esteem in which Van Dongen himself held this painting that he retained it in his own collection before it passed to his widow.
This picture is full of painterly flashes, of lush brushstrokes that convey the sensual involvement of the artist in depicting the scene before him. The shoes provide an almost witty note of punctuation, a colouristic flourish within this evocative and intoxicating picture. While the subject of this painting is unidentified, she perfectly conforms to the type of the times, which so fascinated the artist. Through his friend and muse the Marchesa Casati, and then through his partner Jasmy James, with whom he had moved into the Villa Saïd in the Bois de Boulogne only a few years before Les escarpins mauves was painted, Van Dongen was introduced to the whole glorious panoply of the world of the wealthy, the glamorous and the beautiful, and this is perfectly conveyed in his paintings. The Marchesa Casati, a legendary hostess famed for her extravagant parties, was a particular source of inspiration, and both her features, or look, and those of Jasmy often linger around the faces of his unnamed models, a tribute to their importance in his life. 'All women have their beauty, their charm that I exalt,' Van Dongen said in 1921, capturing the essence of the era which he so perfectly expressed in his paintings.
Les escarpins mauves dates from one of the most pivotal years in the career of Van Dongen. For 1921 was marked by two very different scandals from which he emerged with an international reputation. In short, during the course of the year, Van Dongen became a phenomenon. This had begun because of a portrait that he painted, of the great French man of letters Anatole France, who was his neighbour in the Villa Saïd. Van Dongen had initially been introduced to Anatole France by Dr. Rappoport, whose portrait he had painted the previous year, which had driven Matisse to exclaim, 'Ça c'est de la peinture!' (J. Melas Kyriazi, Van Dongen après le Fauvisme, Lausanne, 1976, p. 37).
Van Dongen's portrait of Anatole France showed an old man, a fair depiction considering his advanced years; yet this outraged a number of people, who felt that the writer's dignity had been affronted. Eventually, it took the publication of a letter from the sitter himself expressing his admiration for the portrait for the affair to cease; Anatole France's defence of Van Dongen meant that the artist emerged with a far greater reputation than before, and this was only increased when, later in the same year, the writer was awarded the Nobel Prize. Perhaps tired by the scandal, Van Dongen visited Venice, staying at the palazzo of the Marchesa, and returned with a group of paintings which were immediately bought, exhibited and resold by Bernheim-Jeune, a mark of his success at this time. And this success was consolidated when, at the end of 1921, another scandal erupted which provided a telling indication of the esteem in which Van Dongen was now held. For when his portrait of the actress Maria Ricotti was refused by the Salon d'Automne, much of the press and public leapt to his defence... despite the fact that it was refused because the artist had submitted five paintings rather than the statutory two.