Baron Robert de Domecy, Château de Domecy, Sermizelles
Jean & Michel de Domecy (acquired by descent from the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above between 1960 and 1964)
Van Dongen was one of the most sought-after portraitists in high society France, and his portrait of the young model identified as Jeanne de Domecy exemplifies his talents in this area. As is characteristic of his best Fauvist portraits, van Dongen makes use of sharp color contrasts and creates shadow with tonal graditions of hue. For example, the bright cluster of flowers that adorns her hat and the lush bouquet that she holds in her lap beautifully contrast against the starkness of her wardrobe. Painted when the girl was about ten years old, van Dongen presents the young Jeanne in a frontal pose that suits the candid demeanor and curiosity of a typical pre-adolescent.
Van Dongen's bold use of color in his portraits came as a response to Matisse's groundbreaking paintings, such as Madame Matisse, now considered to be one the Fauves' pivotal works, which scandalized Parisian critics at the Salon d'Automne of 1905. The success of Matisse's work lies in its apparent contradiction between the wild, unrestrained handling of pigment and the apparently bourgeois subject. Van Dongen carries out a similar achievement in the present picture, only raising the stakes by using a child as his conduit for his unorthodox aesthetic expression.
It is interesting to consider that, when he painted the present work, van Dongen was the father of a girl around the same age as Jeanne. Perhaps for this reason he knew how to pose his young model to best capture the slight self-consciousness and naivité that we detect in this picture. Seated before what appears to be Montmartre's church of Saint Pierre in the background, the young model possesses none of the animation or flirtation exhibited in van Dongen's portraits of young women. To further the point, Jeanne wears the same flowered hat and black ribbon necklace as the models in some of the artist's most overly sensual pictures -- a fact that perhaps adds another dimension to this depiction of Jeanne on the verge of womanhood.
Jeanne de Domecy was the daughter of Baron Robert de Domecy (1867-1946), who commissioned the present portrait from the artist. Domecy owned a large chateau in Sermizelles, where he commissioned the artist Odilon Redon to create 15 decorative panels, which are now in the collection of the Louvre. Domecy also commissioned portraits of his wife and daughter from Redon, two of which are in the collections of the Musée d'Orsay and the Getty Museum in California. The present oil remained in the Domecy family collection until the 1960s.
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