Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this work in his forthcoming Van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Femme au chapeau depicts an elegant woman with the eponymous hat; she has wide eyes, a round face and slightly parted lips - in short, she is the quintessential Van Dongen muse. Employing an intriguing chiaroscuro, the drawing revels in contrasts between light and darkness. At first glance, this appears to imply that his legendary Fauve palette might have been dispelled, that the explosive colours of some of his earlier works have been tamed. However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that Van Dongen has used the darkness in order to conceal a more discreet Fauvism. There are flashes of red in the outline of the face, as well as in the vivid lips; meanwhile, Van Dongen has also used swathes of green in order to give a sense of shadow, for instance in the area around the chin, nose the neck. In this, he recalls one of the great icons of Fauvism, the portrait painted by Henri Matisse of his wife nick-named La raie verte, or 'The Green Stripe', 1905 (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), because of its emphatic use of the same device.
Even before Van Dongen had developed his Fauve palette in the early part of the Twentieth Century, he appears to have been fascinated by the compositional value of depicting women crested with impressive millinery such as that in evidence in Femme au chapeau.
In the form of the pompon hat and the palette dominated by black and ochre, the work most closely relates to the oil Stella au chapeau fleuri, circa 1907 (National Gallery of Art, Dublin). His Parisienne de Montmartre of around 1908, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Havre, also provides an intriguing comparison for Femme au chapeau, with its dark background, pale face and burst of colour at the top, in the form of flowers on the hat. By contrast, La dame au chapeau noir of around 1911, formerly in the collection of Ivan Morozov and now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, presents an entirely darker composition, the hat serving as a large, rakishly-tipped mass of black paint.
In common with all of these works, the shadowed underside of the hat frames the pale face like a dark halo, thrusting the features into bold relief. In this way, Van Dongen manages to convey a sense of this picture being painted at night, perhaps by electric light rather than lamps or candles, lending it the vivid contrast by which the skin tones sing out against the backdrop.