This painting will be included in the forthcoming Kees Van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared by Jacques Chalom Des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
1936 was a significant year for Kees van Dongen, which saw him return to Paris after living for a time outside of the city. Having separated from his lover and muse Léa Alvin, or 'Jasmy', in 1927, they had nevertheless continued living together until she married in 1932, upon which Van Dongen had left for Garches. He now took up residence at 75 rue de Courcelles, where he would spend the rest of his life. Returning from a reclusive existence, he was soon a regular on the social scene and gossip pages of Paris, and within a year, had painted the portraits of King Léopold III of Belgium and the Agha Khan and was on his way to Hollywood to paint the stars of the silver screen. Now at the height of his commercial success, he was the most sought-after portraitist of his day.
In addition to high-profile commissions, Van Dongen continued to paint the society portraits and paintings of young women for which he had found renown in the 1920s, and he found further inspiration in his new mistresses. With her delicate bone structure, heavily-lidded eyes, thin, high eyebrows and perfectly formed red mouth, La femme au beret bears a striking resemblance to one of them, Ariana Gedeonov, whose portrait by the artist exhibited at the Paris Salon d'Automne in 1934 and with whom he enjoyed a liaison that was to last until 1936. More important than the identity of the sitter, however, is the subject of the painting. Louis Chaumeil described Van Dongen as 'le roi et peintre de son temps' (in Van Dongen, Geneva, 1967, p. 216), and indeed in addition to portraits of celebrities and socialites, he took as his subject the temps itself. With her short hair and sporty jumper and beret, La femme au beret shows the artist's sensitivity to the changing fashions of his day. Depicted against a bright blue sky in a rare outdoor portrait, the sitter is the embodiment of the athletic, fresh-faced modern women of the inter-war era, lightly made-up, in contrast to the heavily-kohled and rouged faces of the 1910s and 1920s. Although fashions had changed, in his style and technique Van Dongen retained the fauve innovations of his early works, most visible in the swathes of green pigment that shadow her face and arms, complimenting the reds and pinks of her lips, cheeks and jumper.