This work will be included in the forthcoming Kees van Dongen catalogue critique of paintings and drawings being prepared by Jacques Chalom Des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Set within an opulent ballroom, underneath a dazzling chandelier, Kees van Dongen’s Les Salons du Casino de Deauville, Le Privé presents a melee of animated people, capturing the visual pageantry of modern life. A vision of the ‘Époque Cocktail’ or ‘Les années folles’, Les Salons du Casino de Deauville, Le Privé is an embodiment of this era in the 1920s that was characterised by an ebullient sense of optimism and hedonism; a shared desire to forget the horrors of war and revel in the new forms of music and dance that filled the nightclubs, cabarets and salons of Paris and beyond.
In his desire to depict the spirit of modern life, Van Dongen immersed himself in the decadent lifestyle of the haute bourgeoisie. After the First World War, Van Dongen became a distinguished figure within the beau monde of Paris. He hosted raucous parties at his home and pursued the diversions and pastimes of the Parisian wealthy elite: frequenting the French Riviera, attending lavish balls in Venice, and holidaying in the fashionable seaside resorts of Normandy. Alongside his portraits of actresses, aristocracy and socialites, Van Dongen also illustrated scenes from these ostentatious pleasure havens. In the present work, Van Dongen has depicted a scene from the casino in Deauville, one of the most prestigious holiday destinations on the north coast of France. Situated not far from Paris, Deauville had long attracted the upper milieu of Parisian society with its fashionable hotels, casino, beaches and racecourse.
In Les Salons du Casino de Deauville, Le Privé Van Dongen has rendered the scene with a sense of rapidity and spontaneity, conjuring the jubilant atmosphere of the throng of socialites and partygoers. With a bold palette of bright white, orange, yellow and green, Van Dongen has portrayed the women in the latest fashions, capturing subtle details of style, such as the ruffled backless white dress of the woman in the foreground, the diaphanous white fabric of the woman to her left, and the clinging canary yellow dress of her neighbour. Under the glowing, impastoed chandelier, the scene dazzles with a sparkling effervescence, illustrating Van Dongen’s unique skill as a colourist. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire perfectly described the effect of the artist’s distinctive use of colour and light, writing in 1918: ‘[Van Dongen] has, above all, drawn an acute excitement from electric lighting and has added it to the nuances. The result is an intoxication, a dazzle, a vibrancy, and the colour, holding fast to an extraordinary individuality, swoons, exalts itself, sails, grows dim, faints away, without ever clouding over the clarity of shade’ (G. Apollinaire, quoted in G. Diehl, Van Dongen, New York, 1976, p. 85).