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

Adam et Eve

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Adam et Eve
signed 'Van Dongen' (lower center)
oil on canvas
86½ x 28½ in. (219.7 x 72.4 cm.)
Painted in 1922
Estate of the artist.
Augusta (Dolly) van Dongen, Paris.
Private collection, Singapore (circa 2000); sale, Christie's, New York, 1 November 2005, lot 63.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Melas Kyriazi, Van Dongen après le fauvisme, Lausanne, 1976, p. 144 (illustrated in color, pl. 41).
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Kees van Dongen, 1949, no. 122.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Kees van Dongen, May-July 1949, no. 73.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne and Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Van Dongen, October 1967-January 1968, no. 115 (illustrated).
Marseilles, Musée Cantini, Homage à van Dongen, June-September 1969, no. 63.
Tucson, The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Kansas City, Atkins Museum, Kees van Dongen, February-March 1971, p. 187, no. 91 (illustrated in color, p. 97).
Sale room notice
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Lot Essay

Stemming from his involvement in the anarchist movement at the turn of the century, Van Dongen remained committed throughout his life to the advancement of sexual liberation and free love. He deliberately and flagrantly eroticized the nude in his paintings to provoke viewers over these issues. His penchant for risqué subjects occasionally led to public scandal, which he welcomed, for such incidents invariably propelled him into the limelight, creating a wider forum for the promulgation of socially progressive ideas and opinions, while also having the fortuitous effect of making him one of the most famous and successful artists of his day. The most notorious event occurred a year before the beginning of the First World War, with Van Dongen's inclusion of the painting Le châle espagnol in the 1913 Salon d'Automne. It depicted his wife Guus standing full-length, lifting her shawl to reveal unabashed frontal nudity, while clad only in stockings and high heels. Government ministers deemed it pornographic, and the police ordered it removed. The resulting controversy made the artist a celebrity; he was notorious in the eyes of the public, but this painting became the subject of serious debate in the press as well, in which the issues of censorship and artistic freedom were hotly contested. Van Dongen's dealers at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune became increasingly uncomfortable with the artist's scandalous reputation, and in 1916 both parties agreed to terminate his contract. Van Dongen was confident he could act as his own dealer, and indeed, his independence and daring paid off handsomely.

During the First World War Van Dongen moved into spacious quarters at 29, rue de la Villa Saïd, where he painted, displayed his work and lavishly entertained. Leaving his wife, he openly began an affair with Léo Jacob, known as Léo Jasmy or Jasmy La Dogaresse, who possessed "la beauté et le élégance d'un gran mannequin" (L. Chaumeil, Van Dongen, Geneva, 1967, p. 168). Her social connections facilitated Van Dongen's entry into the most fashionable salons of the post-war period, that time which the French call les années folles. Dominated by old-money aristocrats and newly wealthy entrepreneurs, well-heeled circles in Parisian society made Van Dongen their favorite portraitist--Chaumeil called him "peintre et roi de son temps" (ibid., p. 216). In 1922 Dongen acquired in Jasmy's name an even more elegant residence at 5, rue Juliette Lamber. During his first months there he painted Adam et Eve, as well as other works that appear to use the same pair of young models, including individual depictions of Adam and Eve, La chute d'Icare from Greek mythology, and a version of Le viol, in which the young man carries off the girl (all seen in situ, fig. 1).

The impassioned and overtly erotic behavior of Van Dongen's Adam and Eve is a far cry from countless earlier and traditional versions of this subject as based on the Biblical story in Genesis. Van Dongen reveals his first man and woman neither as innocents before The Fall nor as sinners driven from the Garden of Eden. His Adam and Eve are instead thoroughly modern lovers, free of any inhibitions, who openly revel in their passion and sexuality. They have tasted the fruit, but show no awareness of sin or guilt. Van Dongen has upended and jettisoned all of the moralistic concerns that lie at the heart of his subject's Old Testament source, so that his couple feels neither shame nor indecency--indeed, they flaunt their youth, beauty and sexual feelings for each other. The only concession that Van Dongen has made here to bourgeois propriety is using Eve's long tresses to cover Adam's sex. When the artist painted his own naked self-portrait portrait in 1935, at the age of 58, he hid nothing, and quite possibly enhanced his physique. Van Dongen's Adam and Eve proclaim a new dawn for both man-- and womankind, in which both sexes may openly acknowledge and celebrate their sexual desire, and--just as Van Dongen practiced in both his life and art--enjoy the freedom to express their love as they please.

(fig. 1) The dining-room in Van Dongen's residence at 5, rue Juliette Lamber, Paris.

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