The Comité Van Dongen has confirmed the authenticity of this painting and it will be included in the forthcoming Kees van Dongen catalogue raisonné being prepared by Jacques Chalom Des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
The present work has been requested for the forthcoming Kees van Dongen Retrospective, organised by the Nouveau Musée national de Monaco and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, in collaboration with the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen of Rotterdam, to be held in Montréal from 9 December 2008 to 19 April 2009.
Filled with grace, glamour and a languid sensuality, Venise no. II, le manteau de cygne is the quintessential 1920s Van Dongen, and perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of the era. The woman, in her short dress, is lounging back, immersing herself in the rich 'manteau de cygne' of the title. Women had long been Van Dongen's greatest subject, a template for him to explore and celebrate the world of beauty, of pleasure, and this is perfectly captured in the present work. 'All women are beautiful,' Van Dongen once explained. 'They must be allowed to do as they please, for they pose better than men. They know how to arrange themselves so that everything they have shows up to advantage. Men don't bother; they think they're handsome enough as they are' (Van Dongen, quoted in J.-P. Crespelle, The Fauves, London, 1962, p. 224). Certainly, the woman luxuriating in this coat of swan feathers appears lost in her own world, doing as she pleases according to Van Dongen's prescription, filling the picture with a heady eroticism that is accentuated by the deliberate contrast between the flash of red of her lips and the more subdued tones in the feathered and light-dappled brushstrokes, with which the rest of the scene has been rendered. Perhaps this sensuality, linked to the swan-feather coat, implies that this is a modern re-imagining of the myth of Leda.
During the earlier part of his career, Van Dongen had been the arch-chronicler of the Parisian demi-monde. Now, largely under the auspices of two women with whom he became involved during the latter half of the 1910s and during the 1920s, he was exposed to another side of life in Paris, the chic salons and balls of the more fashionable classes. Through Marchesa Casati and then through Jasmy Jacob, he was exposed to the glamorous world of the international set, and began to capture the elegant women that now surrounded him through a new aesthetic of elegance. Instead of focussing on colour, he now sought to capture the elongated, supine elegance of the beautiful women of his era, a look that, in his work, was perfectly encapsulated by the figures of these glamourous women. The title Venise no. II le manteau de cygne, written on the reverse of the canvas, links this picture to Venice, a city that Van Dongen visited several times. It is perhaps no coincidence that some of Marchesa Casati's most decadent entrances and spectacles took place in balls and festivities there, not least in her palazzo on the Grand Canal. Is it some of this decadence that Van Dongen has portrayed in Venise no. II, le manteau de cygne? While the sitter here is unidentified, she is undoubtedly the perfect archetype of the world of elegance and extreme decadence to which Casati introduced Van Dongen, which so utterly enthralled him, and whose fleeting pleasures he would so perfectly capture in his paintings.