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

Femme au collier

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Femme au collier
signed 'Van Dongen' (upper left); inscribed 'MONTE CARLO' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
24 x 19½ in. (61 x 49.7 cm.)
Galerie Moos, Geneva.
Acquired by the family of the present owner, circa 1960.

Lot Essay

Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this work in his forthcoming Van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.

"I exteriorize my desires," Van Dongen once declared, "by expressing them in pictures. 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 and 226).

A self-taught artist from a small village on the outskirts of Rotterdam, Van Dongen left home in 1897 at the age of twenty to make his name in Paris, living in utter poverty among hustlers and prostitutes and selling his skillfully mordant illustrations to newspapers and journals. In 1904, he burst onto the Parisian cultural scene with a solo exhibition at Galerie Vollard, which featured both dark, atmospheric paintings in the Dutch tradition and brightly colored scenes of Montmartre in an up-to-the-minute, Neo-Impressionist style. Van Dongen drew on various sources in an entirely intuitive manner. He had admired Toulouse-Lautrec's all-inclusive, unflinching and sardonic eye for life on the streets and after hours. He was moreover drawn to the work of Van Gogh, a fellow Dutchman and another autodidact, for its blunt emotional intensity, and the sheer honesty and directness of his style.

The following year, Van Dongen unleashed his own brand of Fauvism, replacing the meticulous touch of Neo-Impressionism with a volatile mixture of strident color and vigorously painted form. He exhibited alongside Matisse and his colleagues at the now-legendary Salon d'Automne, during which the critic Louis Vauxcelles bestowed upon Les Fauves ("The Wild Beasts") their name, and he cemented his reputation as an adherent of the new movement with a solo exhibition at the Galerie Druet in November 1905. "An orgy of color at the Salon d'Automne, a torrent of color at Galerie Druet: Van Dongen is incontestably a Fauve from the beginning." Emmanuelle Capra has written (Van Dongen, exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009, p. 5).

Later in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, Van Dongen often adopted more somber tones in his portraits, as seen in La Parisienne de Montmartre, 1911. Though clearly aligned with the Fauve movement, Van Dongen's works, like Femme au collier, also have an affinity to German Expressionism. In 1908, Max Pechstein invited the artist to exhibit with the Dresden-based group, Die Brücke, whose members particularly appreciated his commitment to the figure.

The modern woman was Van Dongen's chief subject throughout his career and he was as radical and influential in depicting her as his contemporaries Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani. After several successful exhibitions afforded him the means to move to a large elegant studio, he became famous for his parties and dress balls. Following World War I, Van Dongen gravitated to the beau monde in Paris, becoming the city's most fashionable portraitist in the 1920s and 1930s. He was well liked by his patrons and fellow artists alike. As the poet André Salmon observed, "van Dongen--good old Kees--was considered as the best and warmest fellow, shorn of what is expected of a friend" (quoted in M. Vallès-Bled, Van Dongen, du Nord et du Sud, exh. cat., Musée de Lodève, 2004, p. 32).

Whether painting prostitutes, café singers or movie stars, Van Dongen infused all of his women with vitality and sensuality. The reviewer M.B. Galanti observed in 1914: "van Dongen's art irresistibly draws us in, because it is filled with passion and ardent sensuality. The voluptuous appeal of some of these girlish faces is completely thrilling... whether he paints society women or prostitutes, errand girls or actresses, dancers or oriental women, his constant and only concern is to capture on canvas, with extraordinarily rich colors, the form, appearance, and soul of today's woman" ("Kees van Dongen," Montparnasse, 20 June 1914).

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