This painting exemplifies the dramatic stylization for which van Dongen’s female portraits would become famous: the sitter’s flame-colored hair, her extravagant, eye-catching hat, and greenish-yellow pallor. The identity of the poised young woman remains unknown, as van Dongen's primary focus was on his painterly expression rather than on anatomical accuracy or descriptive value. The bouquet of pink flowers in the lower left corner adds another bright accent to the palette, drawing the eye to the model’s ruby lips and balancing the indigo blue of the background. She avoids the gaze of the artist and viewer, emphasizing the gulf between subject and object. Though background detail has been left enigmatically bare, her pose suggests she may be watching a show from a theatre box and being observed, unknowingly, by the clandestine artist concealed in the shadows. It is worth noting that the hat became somewhat of a fetish object in van Dongen’s compositions from this period; in other paintings from around the same time, his models are depicted wearing nothing but a festooned piece of millinery.
The first owner of Portrait de femme à la plume blanche was the legendary Parisian dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Although Kanhweiler is primarily known for his support of the Cubist artists including Picasso, Braque and Gris, in the period between 1907 and 1913 he appears to have acquired around 140 or so works by van Dongen. On visiting Kahnweiler's gallery in 1909, the writer and critic Jacques Rivière wrote in a letter to the painter André Lhote: "Stunning Van Dongens at Kahnweiler’s" (quoted in Gaston Diehl, Van Dongen, Milan, n.d., p. 91). This picture was then acquired by the esteemed politician and patron of the arts Olivier Sainsère and has remained in his family for around a century.
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