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

La cuirasse d'or

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
La cuirasse d'or
signed 'van Dongen.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
51 3/8 x 51 5/8 in. (130.4 x 131.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1907
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (no. 1870).
Galerie Moos, Geneva (no. 5319).
Private collection, Brest, by 1967.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 21 October 1980, lot 222.
Galerie Daniel Varenne, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner.
L. Chaumeil, Van Dongen: L'homme et l'artiste - La vie et l'oeuvre, Geneva, 1967, no. 116, p. 321 (illustrated).
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Kees van Dongen, January - June 2002, no. 73 (illustrated p. 123, titled 'Sur le divan', dated 'années vingt').
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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.

Painted circa 1907, La cuirasse d'or is suffused with the intoxicating atmosphere of languid sensuality that characterises the greatest of Van Dongen's pictures. This picture dates from the height of Van Dongen's Fauve period, which had begun several years earlier. By this time, he had truly chosen his own unique path: the palette in La cuirasse d'or is far distant from those of his more landscape-orientated contemporaries in the loose Fauve confederacy. He has used the darkness of the interior, of the night, to thrust his subject into relief, thriving on a contrast that makes his oils look all the more incandescent and vivid, conjuring the ambience of a textile-strewn, almost Oriental haven of sensual delights. Is this another of the dressing rooms of Montmartre, another of the behind-the-scenes glimpses of women of the cabaret in costume? Certainly, in 1907 Van Dongen was very much embroiled in his life in Montmartre, as that year he began in the Bateau-Lavoir, where he was a fellow occupant with his friend Pablo Picasso, who was already working on Les demoiselles d'Avignon. He subsequently moved into the rue Lamarck, conveniently close to the Folies Bergères, the venue that inspired so many of his paintings and provided him with a multitude of the characters who would feature in his paintings. In La cuirasse d'or, the woman's features appear to echo those of several of Van Dongen's subjects from the Montparnasse period, be it Madame Malpel or his own wife and Muse, Guus. This is thus the archetypal Van Dongen woman, a modern and very earth-bound Venus, replete with an alluring beauty spot that appears to differentiate her from the more usual models such as Guus or Anita.

Van Dongen's unique adaptation of his Fauve palette is evident in the virtuoso colourism, in the deliberate contrast between the pale flesh, the golden outfit and the rich, dark, cloaking darkness of the black and lapis-coloured background. The viewer appears to have been invited into some strange realm of the erotic, with the woman looking directly out from the canvas, lips parted, in a state of mild déshabille. The contrast between the various paint surfaces reveals the extent to which Van Dongen himself has revelled in capturing this scene. The woman is presented as a gleaming treasure at the centre of an almost velvet-toned rich background; the picture surface itself presents a wealth of textures, with Van Dongen exuberantly painting the cuirasse of the title in particular through a lush impasto. Indeed, the thickness of the paint in the areas of the subject's clothing form a deliberate contrast with the smoothness of the oils with which he has rendered her pale flesh, adding to the sensuousness, which verges on the tactile, of the picture as a whole.

On the reverse of La cuirasse d'or is a label from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's gallery at 28, rue Vignon in Paris. This supports the dating of the picture to circa 1907, as it was during that year that Van Dongen had first heard of the now-celebrated dealer and visited his premises. Van Dongen managed not only to sell Kahnweiler some of his paintings, but also made an oral contract with him, allowing him a new-found financial stability. Kahnweiler also helped to launch Van Dongen on the international stage, arranging for his works to be shown the following year in Alfred Flechtheim's gallery in Dusseldorf. In part through Kahnweiler's efforts and in part because of the enthusiasm of the German painter Max Pechstein, Van Dongen's pictures were exhibited in several places in Germany that year, linking his sensual Fauvism and ardent palette to the German Expressionists. Pechstein, indeed, had invited Van Dongen to exhibit alongside Die Brücke, the Dresden-based movement to which he, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ernst Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff belonged. However, Kahnweiler appears to have disapproved of Van Dongen's exhibiting with other dealers and relinquished his oral contract, turning his own attention now away from Fauvism and towards the Cubism with which his name is still so strongly associated. Meanwhile, Van Dongen would be formally taken on by Bernheim-Jeune, with whom he had had long connections through his friend Félix Fénéon, propelling him further onto the international stage.

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