Femme aux bas noirs dates from circa 1907. Van Dongen's work from this period is difficult to date exactly. In fact, Van Dongen himself, in a letter dated 10 January, 1953, and written on headed paper from the Bateau Lavoir, 7 Avenue H. Otto, Monaco (fig. 2) admits to being unable to recall the exact date of the picture, which he describes, along with another painting he mentions, 'comme des oeuvres importantes'; 'La femme au bas noirs est peinte a Paris entre 1902 et 1906, mais il en est impossible de me rappeler la date exacte - il y a un demi siècle.'
The model for La femme aux bas noirs displays a stylisation typical of Van Dongen's women. Her strong, linearly constructed face with its large, wide-set eyes recalls the African masks that were so inspiring Picasso in his depiction of the human visage from around this time. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler commented in August 1907 that he detected some influence of Picasso in the canvases that the artist showed him in preparation for an exhibition the following year.
Van Dongen, however, was more inspired by Indian and Khmer art and La femme aux bas noirs already displays some elements of the orientalism that was to inspire him to such a degree. Matisse had been to Morocco in 1906 and had brought back not only textiles and ceramics to include in his paintings but also a richer palette. The trip was as important to the development of his subject matter as to that of his style and the odalisque was to become for him a favourite theme. Van Dongen was already captivated by the human figure and between 1905 and 1908 was painting a series of sensual explorations of the reclining human figure using the dancer Anita la Bohémienne as a model. 'I love anything that glitters, precious stones that sparkle, fabrics that shimmer, beautiful women who arouse carnal desire...painting lets me possess all this most fully' (quoted in M. Giry, Fauvism, Fribourg 1981, pp. 224-6). The present work displays the same erotic power as the Anita nudes, while at the same time anticipating the grace and elegance of his society paintings from the 1920s.