Jacques Chalom des Cordes will include this painting in his forthcoming Van Dongen catalogue raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
During the 1920s, les années folles, Van Dongen declared, "I passionately love the life of my time, so animated, so feverish. Ah! Life is even more beautiful than painting" (quoted in W.E. Steadman and D. Sutton, Van Dongen, exh. cat., The University of Arizona Art Museum, 1971, p. 46). Van Dongen pursued his love of modern life in the cabarets, restaurants and salons of Paris, and in the seaside resorts where his upper-class clientele took their holidays. "I love novelty, the unpublished, that which has not been made before" (ibid.). He sought the patronage of the aristocracy and the nouveau riche, was a favorite guest in the salons of Paris, and hosted his own soirées.
Van Dongen's social affinities and connections afforded him an excellent vantage point from which he could observe and chronicle contemporary glamour, fashion and mores. He was alert to all the subtleties of social display and behavior, and he could cast a sardonic eye on his subjects when he chose to do so. Yet there little evidence of ambivalence in his treatment of his sitters--he enjoyed the spectacle and moved easily within this world, and largely identified with it. Indeed, his view of those fabled years between the wars is all the more valuable because he was genuinely a participant in the passing parade. He did not seek or play the roles of the detached moralist or critic; he chose instead to let his sitters and subjects speak for this lifestyle and themselves. Louis Chaumeil called Van Dongen "le roi et peintre de son temps" (in Van Dongen, Geneva, 1967, p. 216).
Van Dongen was the most sought-after portrait painter of his day. Depictions of young women were his specialty, and, as seen here, he was particularly drawn to the newly liberated woman of the 1920s, who bobbed her hair, was trim and fit from regular outdoor exercise, and projected her sexuality and a sense of independence in ways that were unthinkable in the years before the First World War. The more provocative display in clothing styles and the emphasis on heavy make-up that he had described in his garish paintings of demi-mondaines--dancers, artist's models and prostitutes--during the previous decade were now nearly universally chic and indeed de rigueur among the fashionable upper classes. The young woman in the present portrait is no doubt the proper daughter of a well-to-do family. While showing off a low décolletage, the graceful curve of her neck, her full, painted lips, blushing cheeks and the dark pools of her heavily mascara-ed eyes, she has nevertheless maintained the wistful and expectant air of an ingénue, a girl who has yet to truly experience the wider and complex life of a modern woman.
If indeed the times had caught up in many ways with Van Dongen's earlier portrayals of the modern woman, then the techniques he had used to paint them were still current and useful. The typically Fauve use of green shadows, used to complement the pinkness of a woman's skin and the red of her lips and cheeks, is observable in this portrait, and her hair displays a myriad of tones, ranging from pale pinks and greens to brown and gray, with bright yellow highlights. The reddish-brown background is perhaps more subdued than the artist might have rendered it twenty years earlier, but it lends this portrait the more classical and refined air of a Titian or Tintoretto, and the young sitter a more solemn and pensive air that dignifies her presence, as if she were the daughter of a Renaissance nobleman.