Kees van Dongen
- Kees van Dongen
- FEMME AU GRAND CHAPEAU
- signed Van Dongen (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 100 by 80.5cm.
- 39 3/8 by 31 3/4 in.
David Drouet, Monte-Carlo (acquired by 1977)
Daniel Malingue, Paris
Charles Tabachnick, Canada (acquired from the above in December 1977; sale: Sotheby's, London, 24th June 1997, lot 18)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne & Munich, Haus der Kunst, Le Fauvisme français et les débuts de l'Expressionnisme allemande, 1966, no. 117, illustrated in the catalogue
Monte-Carlo, David Drouet, Collectors' Paintings, 1977
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen & Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Kees van Dongen, Le Peintre, 1989-90, no. 11, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Essen, Museum Folkwang & Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Van Gogh and the Modern Movement, 1990-91, no. 93, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
René Huyghe & René Rudel, L'Art et le monde moderne, Paris, 1969, no. 586, illustrated in colour p. 178
Executed at the height of Van Dongen’s Fauve period, Femme au grand chapeau is one his most striking early portraits. Having exhibited at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, where the term ‘Les Fauves’ was coined, Van Dongen became a key protagonist of the Fauve movement, and its only non-French member. Van Dongen’s works exhibited at the Salon were perceived as scandalous and daring as those of the other members of the group, not only for their ‘wild’ use of colour, but also for their audacious and erotically explicit portraits. It was in 1906 that Van Dongen moved to Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre (fig. 1), where his studio was opposite that occupied by Picasso and his companion Fernande Olivier, a subject of a number of his portraits. Finding himself at the centre of the Parisian avant-garde, during this period Van Dongen executed works that are now considered the most accomplished and groundbreaking of his career.
Van Dongen’s bold use of colour in his portraits came as a response to Matisse’s paintings such as Femme au chapeau (fig. 2), now considered to be one the Fauves’ pivotal works, which scandalised Parisian critics at the Salon d’Automne of 1905. Whilst the conflict in Matisse’s work is achieved by the apparent contradiction between the wild, unrestrained handling of pigment and the apparently bourgeois subject, Van Dongen in the present work celebrates the concurrent sensual appeal of vibrant colour and female allure. The use of his favoured emerald green to achieve three-dimensional form relates to the similar technique utilised by Matisse in another Fauve masterpiece Madame Matisse. La Raie verte (fig. 3) which, like the present work, rejects the tradition of modelling features through the use of chiaroscuro in favour of chromatic contrast.
Gaston Diehl discussed Van Dongen’s early portraits in the context of the Fauve movement: ‘Although he was in harmony with his fellows on the need to simplify and exalt chromaticism, as his remarkable Self-portrait of 1906 attests, he sharply detached himself from them at the same time, by maintaining a direct, indeed brutal, realism. In his portraits, his nudes […] he held fast to a meticulous craftsmanship, so meticulous it could almost be called naïve. […] The vitality of his need for immediate pleasures took even more concrete form through his development, during these years of 1906 to 1909, of two major themes. One, with which he was already quite familiar, is girls of the street. He treats them without complacency, but – a point on which there is unanimous agreement – he knew how to make a troubling femininity radiate from this flabby and too-used flesh. Enveloped by a powerful corona, the bodies of Anita the Bohemian or of Nini, the habitué of the Folies Bergère, which offer themselves shamelessly, exalt the most sensual luxuries’ (G. Diehl, Van Dongen, Milan, n.d., pp. 41 & 49).
The identity of the sitter of this work remains hidden, as Van Dongen’s primary focus was on the vibrancy of his palette and the directness of his expression than on the anatomical accuracy or descriptive value of his portraits. In Femme au grand chapeau, he combines a female nude, usually modelled on cabaret performers, with the elaborate hat, an attribute of the bourgeois class (fig. 4). In rendering his subject in strong, vibrant colours, the artist sought to recreate his own interpretation of it, expressing the essence of female sexuality. ‘For his part, faithful to his principal source of inspiration, the feminine nude, van Dongen openly asserted his position in the witty prologue he composed for his December  show: “A certain immodesty is truly a virtue, as is the absence of respect for many respectable things.” […] These enticing nudes, who have no adornment but a flower, a knot of ribbons, or a hat, permitted the critics to baptize our painter “the psychologist of the body,” and permitted René Jean to congratulate him for “seeing woman as a superb animal whose smiles and gestures are gracious, supple, feline, and evocative” (ibid., p. 52).
Fig. 1, Kees van Dongen and his family at Bateau-Lavoir, 1906
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Femme au chapeau, 1905, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Madame Matisse. La Raie verte, 1905, oil on canvas, Staatens Musem for Kunst, Copenhagen
Fig. 4, Kees van Dongen, La Parisienne de Montmartre, circa 1907-10, oil on canvas, Musée André Malraux, Le Havre