This painting to be included in the forthcoming Kees Van Dongen catalogue raisonné being prepared by Jacques Chalom Des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Van Dongen's penchant for risqué subjects occasionally led to public scandal, which propelled him into the limelight and made him one of the most famous artists of his day. The most notorious incident occurred a year before the beginning of the First World War, with Van Dongen's inclusion of the painting Le châle espagnol in the 1913 Salon d'Automne. It depicted his wife Guus standing full-length, lifting her shawl to reveal unabashed frontal nudity, while she was clad only in stockings and high heels. Government ministers deemed it pornographic, and the police ordered it removed. The resulting controversy made the artist a celebrity; he was notorious in the eyes of the public, but he became the subject of serious debate in the press as well, in which the issues of censorship and artistic freedom were hotly contested. Van Dongen's dealers at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune became increasingly uncomfortable with the artist's scandalous reputation, and in 1916 both parties agreed to terminate his contract. Van Dongen was confident he could act as his own dealer, and indeed, his independence and daring soon paid off handsomely.
During the war Van Dongen moved into spacious quarters at 29, rue de la Villa Saïd, where he painted, displayed his work and lavishly entertained. He began an affair with Léo Jacob, known as Léo Jasmy or Jasmy La Dogaresse, who possessed "la beauté et le élégance d'un grand mannequin" (L. Chaumeil, Van Dongen, Geneva, 1967, p. 168). Her social connections assisted Van Dongen's entry into the most fashionable salons of the post-war period, that time which the French call les années folles, and Americans and British 'The Jazz Age.' Dominated by old-money aristocrats and newly wealthy entrepreneurs, the posh circles in Parisian society made Van Dongen their favorite portraitist--Chaumeil called him "peintre et roi de son temps" (ibid., p. 216). In 1922 Dongen acquired in Jasmy's name an even more elegant residence at 5, rue Juliette Lamber. During his first months here he painted Adam et Eve, as well as other works that appear to use the same pair of young models, including individual depictions of Adam and Eve, La Chûte d'Icare from Greek mythology, and a version of Le viol, in which the young man carries off the girl (all seen in situ, fig. 1).
The impassioned and overtly erotic behavior of Van Dongen's Adam and Eve is a far cry from innumerable earlier and traditional renditions of this subject as taken from the story in Genesis. Van Dongen reveals the first man and woman neither as innocents before the fall nor as shamed sinners driven from the Garden of Eden. His Adam and Eve are instead thoroughly modern lovers who revel, free of any inhibitions, in their passion and sexuality. They make no pretense to innocence, nor possess any awareness of sin, shame or guilt. Van Dongen has jettisoned all of the moralistic concerns that lie at the heart of his subject's Old Testament source. He has proclaimed instead a new dawn for man- and womankind, in which they may celebrate the knowledge of their sexual desire, and, like the artist in his work, their freedom to express their love as they please.
(fig. 1) The dining-room in Van Dongen's residence at 5, rue Juliette Lamber, Paris. BARCODE 23657472