To be included in the forthcoming Van Dongen Catalogue raisonné being prepared by Jacques-Chalom des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Executed in the years following Van Dongen’s first exhibition with the Fauves at the Salon d’Automne in 1905, Le Chapeau de dentelles is a fine example of the artist’s striking and sensual female portraits from his early career. This elegant, atmospheric depiction of a three-quarter-length nude dates from the most important period in Van Dongen’s œuvre, when he introduced some of his great models, such as ‘Nini des Folies-Bergères’, ‘Anita la Bohémienne, ‘Fernande’ and ‘La Belle Fatima’. Unlike the other Fauve painters such as Matisse and Derain, who depicted the sunlit coast of southern France, Van Dongen found inspiration in city life. It was Parisian night-life and the artificial lights of the circus and concert-halls, rather than nature and open spaces, that excited him.
Known as the principal portraitist among the Fauve artists, Van Dongen’s portraits were often inspired by his visits to the cabarets and cafés, where dancers performed in exotic costumes, or semi-nude. In the present work, the figure’s large dark eyes and a strong gaze are typical of Van Dongen’s portraits of the Fauve period, in which the sitters are often conveyed with vibrant modernity and intensity. The artist was fascinated by costumes and ornaments, and often adorned his female figures, even those depicted in the nude, with embellishments such as hats and jewellery. The beauty of this alluring nude is accentuated by the large, elaborate hat, as well as by the necklace to which she is pointing. These attributes at the same time hint that the sitter might be a member of high society, rather than a cabaret performer. The figure’s identity, however, remains obscure, as Van Dongen’s primary interest lay in the feminine allure of her figure. The subtlety of the woman’s pale skin is accentuated by the painting’s dark background rendered in wide brushstrokes of various shades of green. This lack of specificity in the setting underlines the mysterious character of the composition. The green highlights of the figure’s skin demonstrate the artist’s disregard for anatomy and naturalistic representation, in favor of depicting the physicality and sensual presence of his sitter.
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