Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this work in his forthcoming Van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Egyptienne au collier de perles 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, sexualized female nude.
Van Dongen's sensual portrayals of women evolved out of his socially-engaged realist drawings of the 1890s and early 1900s, images which depicted the demi-mondaines 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 characterized by sinuously curving lines, vibrant tones and vigorous brushwork. Van Dongen explicitly connected his usage of color with the women he portrayed in his pictures, claiming to empathize 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 colors; perhaps I do so in order to express the intensity of their lives?" (quoted in J. van Adrichem, "Kees van Dongen's Early Years in Rotterdam and Paris" in Kees van Dongen, exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1989, p. 7). Through his dynamic painting technique, bold colorism 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 among 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 Egyptienne au collier de perles 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., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2010, p. 99). In 1913, Kees van Dongen travelled to Egypt, and his experiences there resulted in a celebrated revitalization of his Fauvism. Indeed, Van Dongen now became the scion of the movement. Painted in 1913, Egyptienne au collier de perles combines the exoticism that had flavored so many of his most famous paintings with a tempered palette. Van Dongen has manipulated his paint to retain a lush colorism, yet has foregone any distractingly bright colors--only the pearls of the title gleam from the canvas against the mellow, sensuous flesh-tones. Meanwhile, the deft and judicious flashes of red and green that he has used to articulate the skin in the arms and face of the subject reveal his Fauvism bubbling underneath the surface. There is a latent energy to this painting, and Van Dongen also manages to imply that there is a latent energy to the Egyptianness herself: despite the static and pensive position in which she is portrayed, there are barely veiled currents of sensuality, even in her discreet exoticism. Gone is the brash erotica of the Parisian dance halls, replaced by something infinitely more engaging and affecting.
Van Dongen considered his journey to Egypt so successful that he would repeat it some years later. Because of this voyage, 1913 has become a vintage date for his painting, and other pictures from this period are in various museum collections including several in the Centre Georges Pompidou. It breathed new life into his Fauvism while others moved away from that style. As well as altering Van Dongen's palette, Egypt's antiquities had a huge impact on the artist. In Egyptienne au collier de perles, the woman retains a mystical distance from the painter, her dignity recalling the sculptures of Karnak that he visited, and lending the painting a deeply hieratic and absorbingly static atmosphere, while even her facial features resemble Egyptian statuary.