Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
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Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Les deux Parisiennes (Le sentier de la vertu)

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Les deux Parisiennes (Le sentier de la vertu)
signed 'van Dongen' (lower left); dated '1907' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 19 5/8 in. (72.7 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1907
The artist's collection, until 1959.
Anonymous sale, Musée Galliéra, Paris, 12 June 1964, lot 61.
Galerie Paul Pétrides, Paris.
Jean Melas Kyriazi, Paris.
L. Chaumeil, Van Dongen, l'homme et l'artiste, sa vie, son oeuvre, Geneva, 1967, p. 326 (illustrated pl. IX, dated '1906').
G. Diehl, Van Dongen, New York, 1969 (illustrated p. 45).
J.M. Kyriazi, Van Dongen et le fauvisme, Lausanne and Paris, 1971, p. 97 (illustrated pl. 39).
Exh. cat., Kees van Dongen, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1989 (illustrated fig. 1, p. 153, dated 'c. 1905').
Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum, Van Dongen, 1877-1937, 1937, no. 54.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kees van Dongen, December 1937 - January 1938, no. 85.
Paris, Galerie Borghèse, Kees van Dongen, 1938, no. 7.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Kees van Dongen, 1942, no. 45.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Paris et ses peintres, 1944-1945.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Van Dongen, oeuvres de 1890 à 1948, March - April 1949, no. 40 (dated '1907').
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Europa 1907, July - September 1957, no. 25 (titled 'Parijse vrouwen').
Nice, Galerie des Ponchettes, Van Dongen, 1959, no. 18 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Van Dongen, October - November 1967, no. 61 (illustrated, dated '1909'); this exhibition later travelled to Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, December 1967 - January 1968.
Lausanne, Galerie Paul Vallotton, Hommage à Van Dongen, September 1971, no. 5.
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon d'Automne, Van Dongen, October - November 1972, no. 12 (illustrated).
Geneva, Musée de l'Athénée, Van Dongen, 1877-1968, July - October 1976, no. 4 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

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.

In the years 1905-1907, Kees van Dongen achieved a major breakthrough in his painting, propelling him into the forefront of avant-garde art. Les deux Parisiennes was painted at the height of this most celebrated period of Van Dongen's career, and clearly displays the painter's concurrent concerns with the sensual appeal of vibrant colour and of female allure. During this time, Van Dongen lived at the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre among a group of struggling young painters that included Picasso, Braque and Derain, whom he regularly entertained, enjoying both their company and their ideas. This probably in part caused the artist's adoption of a daring and startling palette that liberated his use of colour from the prescriptions of nature. Van Dongen would go on to consistently override naturalism for decorative stylization in his paintings, as seen in the rigid balance of horizontal and vertical lines of Les deux Parisiennes, in which the emphasis on two-dimensionality appears to herald abstract formalism.

Whereas recently he had often used a shimmering Pointillism, from 1905 onwards Van Dongen began to use broad, undifferentiated fields of saturated colour and rudimentary compositional structures that paved the way for his hallmark style. Van Dongen first exhibited in Paris in 1904, when he showed six paintings at the Salon des Indépendants. The following year he achieved the fame and notoriety he had been seeking when he participated in the Salon d'Automne in the company of Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and others. Shortly after Les deux Parisiennes was created, Van Dongen's extraordinary command of colour was triumphed by Marius-Ary Leblond (a literary pseudonym for Georges Athénas and Aimé Merlo) in the catalogue preface for his first exhibition with Bernheim-Jeune in 1908: 'He breaks down the harmonies of the rosy skin, in which he discovers acid greens, blood orange reds, prosperous yellows, vinous lilac, electric blues: instead of juxtaposing these shades in narrow strokes, he spreads them out in isolation, each over large areas. . .'(quoted in exh. cat., Kees van Dongen, Rotterdam, op. cit., p. 153). As though in a tribute to the paintings of his friend and fellow Fauve artist Henri Matisse, Van Dongen has used vivid shades of yellow, pink and green in Les deux Parisiennes to articulate the areas of shadow on the women's faces, whose strong, linearly constructed features and wide-set, slitted eyes recall the African masks that were so inspiring to Picasso around this time. Painted with a vigour that tells of the directness of the picture, filling it with life and spontaneity, Van Dongen lends a hazy and indistinct quality to the scene, with the ladies' almost monochrome dresses standing out as parallel strips of ultramarine and pink against a dark background.

Depictions of young women were Van Dongen's specialty, and he seldom cared to articulate their surroundings in any great detail, although the greenery of Les deux Parisiennes suggests the park environs portrayed in his paintings of the Bois de Boulogne in 1906. Women would remain the primary concern of Van Dongen's artistic career, indeed he was so enraptured by their charms that he declared, 'Women represent the earth and all that is real, the fire of life; the wife and the mistress; the epitome of sensuality' (cited in J. L. Ferrier, The Fauves: The Reign of Colour, Paris, 1992, p. 149). Fascinated by the seductive, demi-monde life he found in the bohemian centre of Paris, the painter frequently sought his subjects among the prostitutes who walked its streets, the shopkeepers of the place du Tertre, and the pleasure-seekers who thronged to the Moulin de Galette and other dancehalls. In Les deux Parisiennes, however, Van Dongen has tempered his street-life imagery to create a seemingly innocuous scene that nevertheless maintains a potent ambiguity. The possibly ironic alternative title of the work, Le sentier de la vertu (The Paths of Virtue) suggests that these innocently strolling young women may not belong to the demi-monde. This was a subject matter that had long fascinated Van Dongen, as was evident in his earliest work in Rotterdam, where he perfected his drawing using as his models the prostitutes who walked the streets below his apartment. Les deux Parisiennes certainly attests to the exuberance with which Van Dongen viewed the women of Paris during this fruitful period. He flatters his female subjects not only in their fashionable belle époque dress, but also by situating their gaze back at the viewer, as if they were returning an admirer's favourable glances. Here, the artist's gestural approach to painting, with its lack of facial detail and indistinct bodily contours acts to genericize his subject, encouraging the viewer to not only delight in the appearance of these Parisian ladies, but also to revere them all.

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