Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE HUBERTUS WALD CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Buste de femme nue

Details
Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Buste de femme nue
signed 'v. Dongen' and indistinctly dated (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 21¼ in. (65.2 x 54 cm.)
Painted in 1913
Provenance
Paul Pétridès, Paris.
Private collection, Paris; sale, Christie's, London, 21 June 1993, lot 18.
Hubertus Wald, Hamburg, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Literature
L. Chaumeil, Van Dongen, L'homme et l'artiste - La vie et l'oeuvre, Geneva, 1967, no. 68, p. 318 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Sammlung Wald, September - November 2003.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Ishbel Gray
Ishbel Gray

Lot Essay

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


A striking bust-length nude, Buste de femme nue is a superb example of Kees van Dongen's seductive and painterly nudes. Known predominantly as a painter of women from the demi-monde, and later as Paris' most desirable portraitist, female nudes were amongst Van Dongen's favoured subjects. The varied poses of Van Dongen's nudes which he rendered in an erotic and alluringly sensual manner, are a testament to the artist's insatiable curiosity for capturing the female form in paint. Buste de femme nue was executed in 1913, a major turning point for the artist. It was during this year that Van Dongen's controversial painting, Tableau, was removed from the Salon d'Automne by the police on grounds of indecency. Scandalizing the art world, this event cemented Van Dongen's reputation as a master of the provocative, sexualised female nude.

Van Dongen's sensual nudes evolved out of his socially-engaged realist drawings of the 1890s and early 1900s, images which depicted the demimondaines of both Rotterdam's and Paris' seamy underbellies. First moving to Paris from the Netherlands in 1897, Van Dongen initially carved out an existence for himself at the margins of Parisian society. Displaying a distinctly Baudelairean sensibility in the modernity of his subject matter, from 1904 Van Dongen chronicled, and indeed celebrated, the prostitutes of Montmartre and, later, the dancers of the Folies-Bergères in canvases characterised by sensuously curving lines, vibrant tones and vigourous brushwork. Van Dongen explicitly connected his usage of colour with the women he portrayed in his pictures, claiming to empathise with their position at the Parisian fringe: 'I know every one of those women's histories, which are deeply tragic. They have experienced life in all its facets. I cannot help painting these women in garish colours; perhaps I do so in order to express the intensity of their lives?' (Van Dongen, quoted in Jan van Adrichem, 'Kees van Dongen's Early Years in Rotterdam and Paris', in Kees van Dongen, exh. cat., Rotterdam, 1989, p. 7).

Through his dynamic painting technique, bold colourism and distinct ability to portray the heady, Bacchanalian environment of Paris during the first decade of the Twentieth Century, Van Dongen emerged as a unique talent amongst those artists such as Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck who received the sobriquet of 'Les fauves'. Van Dongen's star began to rise and by 1909 he had entered into a lucrative contract with the eminent Parisian gallery, Bernheim-Jeune. By the year Buste de femme nue was executed, Van Dongen's renown was such that one journalist could state to the artist, 'you are what we call here a "man who has arrived"'(quoted in A. Hopkins, All Eyes on Kees van Dongen, exh. cat., Rotterdam, 2010, p. 99).

Buste de femme nue is a remarkably direct portrayal of the female nude. The shallow pictorial space and unusual cropped composition establish a visual proximity to the model, bringing to mind the artist's famous declaration, 'I love beautiful women who arouse carnal desire and painting allows me to possess all of them completely' (Van Dongen, quoted in N. Bondil, 'Van Dongen in Montreal: The Urban Fauve', in Bondil & J.M. Bouhours, eds., Van Dongen, Montreal & Monaco, 2008, p. v). The model in the canvas displays the features typical of many of Van Dongen's women - full fleshy lips and almond-shaped eyes rimmed with kohl and surrounded by shadows. The very frontal articulation of the nude's robustly modelled bare breasts contrasts with her turned head as, with downcast eyes, she evades the viewer's gaze. The model in this canvas is presented as a passive object, her expression suggesting a sense of withdrawal, absorption and perhaps acquiescence. The mood evoked is one of languid melancholy, reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire's definition of his idea of beauty: 'a seductive, beautiful head, a woman's head I mean, is a head that gives rise, in some confused way, to dreams at once voluptuous and sad; it brings with it a hint of melancholy, of lassitude, of satiety even or else the contrary idea, a desire of life associated with bitterness' (C. Baudelaire, quoted in Van Dongen, Le Peintre, 1877-1968, exh. cat., Paris, 1990, pp. 33-34).

By 1913, Van Dongen had turned away from the intensely dazzling and highly-keyed colour contrasts of his earlier Fauvist work towards a more modulated - but nevertheless still colourful - palette, now informed by a concern with depicting the effects of light and shadow. In Buste de femme nue, shadow and light are suggested by the use of broad strokes and patches of layered emerald greens, yellows and deep reds, colours which render the pale flesh of the nude all the more luminous and incandescent. The lambent quality possessed by Van Dongen's nudes is distinctive and derives from his use of numerous artificial electric light sources which illuminated his women of the night. The addition of flashes of bright pink to the model's lips and touches of red and navy-blue to the softly rendered hair illustrate the artist's now increasing mastery of subtle effects of colour and texture. Van Dongen's corpulent brushwork and idiosyncratic usage of colour displayed in his nudes were frequently remarked upon by early commentators. One critic noted that, 'the artist kneads the substance of the flesh... and in this accommodation of flesh we find affirmed a sculptural grandeur... suggesting through this play of colour a sensual illumination of the body undressed by light itself' (M. & A. Leblond, quoted in A. de Souza, 'Deformation and Seduction: Van Dongen's images of women', in Bondil & Bouhours, op. cit., 2008, p. 181).

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