Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Property from a New York Estate
Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Portrait de femme

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Portrait de femme
signed 'van Dongen' (lower right); signed again and indistinctly dedicated 'Kees van Dongen à Mme B... affectueusement' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 ½ x 21 ¼ in. (65 x 54 cm.)
Mme B., Paris (acquired from the artist).
Kunstzalen d'Audretsch, The Hague.
Dr. P. Rykens, London.
Clifford and John Rykens, London (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1972, lot 89.
Acquired at the above sale by the family of the late owner.
Sale room notice
Please note that this work is displayed with a loaner frame for the exhibition, which is available for purchase.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

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.

Van Dongen was immediately taken with Paris when he arrived there in 1899 from his native town of Delfshaven in Holland. By 1906, the artist had moved to the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre and spent much of his early career in search of models among the bistros and bals musettes. A great chronicler of the exotic, the erotic and the sensuous, and motivated by a bohemian lifestyle in stark contrast to the bourgeoisie, Van Dongen inhabited the Parisian demi-monde, reveling in its antics and creating vivid portraits in which he sought to reveal the raw, inner truths of human personality and desire.
The parade of models Van Dongen painted during these years engaged the artist so completely that, by 1908, he had all but abandoned the scenes of Parisian nightlife with which he had earned his reputation, and which had been his staple subject matter since his days as an illustrator. Choosing to represent his Fauvist ideals mainly through portraiture, the clubs and dance halls of Montmartre were replaced by intimate depictions of the women in his life, many of whom belonged to the glamorous circles in which he had begun to move. Van Dongen was thus provided with an endless source of inspiration and material for his paintings. The extreme stylization of forms, his preference for bright, saturated colors and the avoidance of half-tones and realistic shadows became characteristic of his portraits throughout his career.
In the present work, Van Dongen has focused his attention on a woman whose identity remains unknown but who is presumably a member of the bourgeoisie. The artist was less concerned with exact anatomical representation, preferring instead to seek the essence of the sitter. In this case he focuses solely on the woman's face, setting it starkly against an undefined background. This lack of form and structure in both the face and in the background, combined with Van Dongen's delicate nuances of tone and color throughout the composition, would suggest an early date for the painting. His discreet colorism, seen especially in the modulated tones of her face, marks an evolution in the artist's approach to his subject. Whereas Van Dongen initially distinguished himself through the bold application of contrasting primary colors, here he has limited his palette to a more reserved array of cool colors; he designates volume and dimension through subtle shifts of pinks, yellows and greens, picking out her lips with bold dashes of red and her eyes with extraordinary touches of green, which mirror the areas of greenish pallor to her skin. In addition the use of deep, luminescent blue with which the artist outlines his sitter's hair and eyes, a characteristic of Van Dongen's early work that betrays the influence of Vlaminck and Derain, contrasts with the overall predominance of subtle tones of cream, pink and grey adding a visual strength to the picture which complements the direct and confident gaze of the woman herself.
Anita Hopmans observed that “Van Dongen filled a sort of vacuum at the Salons of the early twenties…In Naturalism, Van Dongen’s latest work stood out as innovative. His entries were hung in the place of honor at several Salons. In these pictures, he explained, he had wanted to express the character of the modern woman and, through her, the spirit of the age” (All Eyes on Kees van Dongen, exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2010, p. 149).

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