Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this painting in his forthcoming van Dongen catalogue critique being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Van Dongen's spirited La Parisienne is the emblem of a pivotal moment in the artist's career. After arriving in Montmartre in 1899, as one of a polyglot flood of immigrant artists who would help form the Ecole de Paris, van Dongen's art quickly evolved over the course of four years from the typical explorations of Parisian leisure spaces and bohemian culture to more meditative studies of figures and landscapes. Though van Dongen had already published works in various local magazines such as Frou-Frou, Gil Blas, La Revue blanche, and the famous journal L'assiette au beurre, it was Ambroise Vollard's decision to stage the artist's first solo exhibition in 1904 that would prove to be the turning point of van Dongen's career.
The present painting may have been featured in this original Vollard exhibition. Van Dongen's subject certainly attests to the exuberance with which he viewed his Parisian milieu during this fruitful period. He flatters his female sitter not only in her stylish dress and sultry reclining pose, but also by situating her gaze so that she appears to be looking down at the viewer in a vaguely condescending manner. Here the artist utilizes the non-specificity of his gestural approach combined with the lack of facial detail (her hat is tilted forward, shading her face) to genericize his subject: as we look up to one icon of Parisian ladies, we are instructed to revere them all.
La Parisienne also represents an early instance of van Dongen's experimentation with the bold palette that would soon transform his painting under the influence of Fauvists like Maurice de Vlaminck and Henri Matisse. "Disregarding realism, they used color simply with an eye to the picture surface, with only the effect in mind. The stronger the color, the greater its effect, which led them logically to the ultimate step of using color straight from the tube" (J.-P. Crespelle, The Fauves, Greenwich, 1962, p. 30). From 1905 onwards, van Dongen's saturated colors and rudimentary compositions would become the hallmarks of his mysterious and evocative signature works. Where he was later criticized for pursuing financial success through a formulaic approach to society portraits, these early years when he first discovered Fauvism are still considered the most prodigiously imaginative and distinctive years of his career. La Parisienne, with its deft and confident handling, flamboyant coloration and absolutely characteristic subject, is a quintessential van Dongen work of this period.