Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VA… Read more KEES VAN DONGEN Kees van Dongen's career stretched from the end of the Nineteenth Century to the late 1960s, but its undoubted and indisputable apogee came during his years in Paris before the First World War. Thrusting himself with abandon into the hurly burly of life in the French capital, especially in and around the cabaret scene, Van Dongen became one of the foremost chroniclers of-- and protagonists in-- this scandalous milieu, this demi-monde so inextricably linked with the art scene of its day and therefore with the birth of Modernism itself. Interest in Van Dongen has seldom been higher, not least due to the current exhibition of his work which was shown in Monaco, before travelling to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, where it is currently; it will finally be exhibited in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Like that exhibition, the private collection of four paintings being offered for sale at Christie's provides the viewer with insights into this period, into the life of the artist during this time, into the bold and radical modernism that he was so instrumental in pioneering and also into the atmosphere of exoticism, eroticism and decadence that so fascinated him. Van Dongen had been born in Holland, but as he himself later confessed, 'Paris attracted me like a lighthouse' (Van Dongen, quoted in The Van Dongen Nobody Knows: Early and Fauvist Drawings 1895-1912, exh. cat., Rotterdam, Lyons and Paris, 1997, p. 26). In many of the early works with which he first made his name, for instance in the special edition of L'assiette au beurre dedicated to prostitution and illustrated by Van Dongen, the artist had already shown a fascination with chronichling the life of the metropolis in a manner evocative of Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec. By the famous Salon d'Automne of 1905, he had broken away, developing his own bold colourism. There, seven of his paintings were shown alongside those of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck among others, and it was on this occasion that the critic Louis Vauxcelles, seeing a restrained sculpture in the midst of these expressionistic works, referred to, 'Donatello amongst the wild beasts,' les fauves, lending this loose movement a name. Van Dongen's Fauvism was a different beast to that of his Chatou-based friends, or to any of the other off-shoots that had sprung up. As Jean Mélas Kyriazi pointed out, it is ironic that Van Dongen, the least French of the Fauves, was nonetheless the most Parisien, revelling in painting scenes of life and women in and around the cabaret scene. In part, his choice of subject matter was a continuation of his earlier illustrations, and he retained a critical distance from the bourgeoisie of the day. His paintings presented scandalous subject matter through scandalous means in a flagrant assault on the taste and values of the epoch. The words of his fellow Fauve artist, Maurice de Vlaminck, indicate the radicalism of the artistic revolution that the Fauves had undertaken: 'What I could have done in real life only by throwing a bomb which would have led to the scaffold I tried to achieve in painting by using colour of maximum purity. In this way I satisfied my urge to destroy old conventions, to "disobey" in order to re-create a tangible, living, and liberated world' (Vlaminck, quoted in S. Whitfield, Fauvism, London, 1996, p. 33). Van Dongen was at the forefront of a force for change in the art world that would have lasting repercussions, paving the way for many of the movements that would subsequently emerge from the Parisian art firmament. Where the other Fauves, predominantly landscapists, thrilled in capturing nature and light, Van Dongen deliberately painted his night-birds in their nocturnal habitat. It was artificial electric light, rather than the sun favoured in Chatou, that brought the colours of pictures such as La femme au collant vert such bold intensity. This is also evident in La cuirasse d'or, painted circa 1907, in which the sumptuous, theatre-prop-like surroundings of an implied backstage room are filled by a woman who is only partially wearing the eponymous cuirasse, her breast exposed, her lips parted and eyes languidly focussed on the painter/viewer. This is a scene that combines a certain exoticism, albeit the confected exoticism of the cabaret, with the eroticism that fuelled so much of Van Dongen's greatest paintings and which was a backdrop to so much of his life. Looking at La cuirasse d'or, one deeply appreciates the truth of his confession that, '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' (Van Dongen, quoted in M. Giry, Fauvism, Fribourg, 1981, pp. 224-6). It was around the time that he had developed his unique, sensual Fauve aesthetic that Van Dongen moved into the legendary Bateau Lavoir, at 13, rue Ravignan in Montmartre. This was a hotbed of pioneering creativity, a warren of studios and rooms that over the years would play host to characters such as Juan Gris, Max Jacob and André Salmon, but by far its most famous resident was Pablo Picasso, who in turn was often visited by Braque and Modigliani. Van Dongen forged a firm friendship with Picasso; the Spaniard's mistress and Muse, Fernande Olivier, even became one of Van Dongen's most important subjects. After a brief contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Van Dongen was signed to Bernheim-Jeune. His new-found success allowed him to leave Montmartre, the area that had provided him with such a wealth of inspiration. In 1909, he moved to Montparnasse and, in the Winter of 1910, used his increasing financial stability to finance a trip to Spain and North Africa. This trip would completely reignite his palette. The darkness of the nocturnal scenes that had so preoccupied him and even the false pallor and intensity of the electric lights to which he so often resorted for illumination now gave way to a newly reinvigorated range of colours, as though heated by the very warmth and light of those more Mediterranean surroundings. However, the interest in the exotic and the erotic which in part prompted this journey was already in evidence in Van Dongen's work, for instance in Femme aux deux colliers, painted circa 1910, seemingly on the eve of his departure. The woman has been presented as some form of modern odalisque, infused with Orientalism despite the fact that the slightly sombre evening background of the scene hints at its predating his voyage South. Looking at this painting, it is already clear why Guillaume Apollinaire was moved to write that, 'European or exotic at his leisure, Van Dongen has a personal and violent sense for Orientalism. His painting often smells of opium and amber' (Apollinaire, quoted in G. Lascault, 'Eloges de Van Dongen, mêlés de réticences, pp. 17-34, S. Pagé (ed.), , Van Dongen, Le Peintre 1877-1968, exh. cat., Paris, 1990, p. 30). La gitane, which shows a self-assured, beautiful woman within a bullring apparently in Spain, perfectly encapsulates this quality: this celebration of the female subject is filled with the bright colours of the bold palette informed by the light of Southern Europe and with the heady atmosphere of sensuality so distinctive in Van Dongen's paintings. PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE FRENCH COLLECTION
Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Femme aux deux colliers

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Femme aux deux colliers
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 25 5/8 in. (65.1 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1910
Galerie Odermatt, Paris, by November 1979.
Acquired by the family of the present owner circa 1980.
Saint-Tropez, Musée de l'Annonciade, Kees van Dongen 1877-1968, July - September 1985, no. 37 (illustrated, dated '1911-1912'); this exhibition later travelled to Toulouse, Réfectoire des Jacobins, October - November 1985.
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Van Dongen, Le peintre, 1877-1968, March - June 1990 (illustrated p. 161, dated '1911-1912').
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Kees van Dongen, January - June 2002, no. 47 (illustrated p. 91, dated 'circa 1911-1912').
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

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.

Femme aux deux colliers perfectly demonstrates both Kees van Dongen's fascination with the theme of Woman and his vigorous approach to painting. The subject gazes out from the canvas, in sensual contemplation, completely at ease with the state of provocative undress in which we see her. Apparently adorned only with a pair of necklaces, she is supporting her head with one hand, quizzical and still; this calmness is at deliberate odds with the Fauve energy with which Van Dongen has clearly painted this work. Bold and vivid brushstrokes have agglomerated in order to conjure this sensual scene. And while the artist has gone to great lengths to render the flesh tones and the light background, his propensity for colourism is clear in the flashes of blue within the hair, the yellow in the foreground and the reds, purples and greens that act as highlights within the areas of the woman's body, especially the areas of shade.

Van Dongen once claimed that, 'A certain immodesty is truly a virtue, as is the absence of respect for many respectable things' (Van Dongen, quoted in G. Diehl, Van Dongen, trans. S. Winston, New York, 1968, p. 52). The woman in this picture, with her shadowed eyes and questioning stare, appears to embody certainly the first part of that maxim, and possibly the second, as did Van Dongen himself. In terms of his subject matter and the manner in which he painted, Van Dongen himself stayed true to these words. He portrayed a raw beauty in his women, who were earthy and sensual creatures, and depicted them through his own vivid means. Femme aux deux colliers shows already his fascination with the Oriental, with the world of odalisques and harems, a fascination which at around this time would lead him to journey to North Africa, via Spain, at the end of 1910. While that voyage exposed Van Dongen to the real archetypes for such characters, it is telling that Van Dongen had already explored the exotic world of sensuousness through the costumed worlds of the cabarets which had provided so much of his subject matter. Looking at Femme aux deux colliers, it is unclear whether she is one of the Parisian dancers or one of the women whom he discovered on his journey; this in itself shows the degree to which a certain Orientalism, as celebrated by Guillaume Apollinaire himself, was embedded in his psyche even before that journey.

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