Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist on June 22, 1911)
Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye
(probably) J. Michael Stewart, London (by inheritance from the above)
Dr. P. Rykens, Surrey (probably acquired from the above)
Clifford & John Rykens, London (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, London, June 28, 1972, lot 88)
O'Hana Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale)
Howard Young Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners
The poised young woman in La Femme au chapeau de roses is a striking example of Kees van Dongen's work from the important period immediately following his involvement with the Fauves. The plunging lace neckline of the sitter's black dress and the flowers garnishing her wide-brimmed hat exemplify the daring stylization for which the artist was renowned. This picture is a prime example of the type of feminine beauty demanded by van Dongen's elite clientele, who clamored to sit for the artist in the years leading up to World War I. By the 1920s, these elegant portraits became some of the most coveted status symbols among the grandes dames of Paris.
The identity of the model of this work remains unknown, as van Dongen's primary focus was on his painterly expression rather than on anatomical accuracy or descriptive value. Given her wardrobe and the elegant strands of beads that drape her neck, the model is clearly a fashionable member of the bourgeoisie. The artist sought to portray his own interpretation of his ruby-lipped sitter, capturing the essence of her demure sexuality. In other paintings from around the same time, van Dongen often presented his models wearing nothing but a festooned hat, and this accessory was somewhat of a fetish object in his compositions from this period.
Van Dongen started his career as an illustrator in his native Rotterdam but moved to Paris in 1897. It was then that Félix Fénéon introduced him to artists associated with the avant-garde journal La Revue blanche, including Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. His politically-oriented drawings, executed in a notational style with vibrant colors, anticipated Fauvism. Van Dongen became known as a painter in 1905 when he showed at the Salon d'Automne alongside Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. These artists would be dubbed "Les Fauves" or "Wild Beasts" for their unstudied handling of paint and daring use of color. As John Elderfield has noted, van Dongen's stylistic progression seemingly passed through "a Neo-Impressionist phase. By 1905 he had found his way into a loose impromptu style analogous to the mixed-technique Fauvism of the Matisse circle, especially in his paintings of nudes. But the main direction of his art was fast becoming geared to the representation of subjects different from those of the other Fauves" (John Elderfield, The "Wild Beasts": Fauvism and Its Affinities, New York, 1976, p. 66). Indeed, van Dongen soon moved away from the heightened color palette and demi-monde subjects he favored in the first decade of the twentieth century, turning instead to portraits of stylish Parisian society women executed in rich, deep tones.
Another influence on van Dongen's portraits of this period was the work of Pablo Picasso, who knew the artist at the Bateau-Lavoir during the first decade of the 20th century. One can see the similarities in Picasso's early café pictures, completed at the turn of the century in Paris, and the fashionable portraits that dominated van Dongen's production nearly a decade later. But with these later pictures, it is as if van Dongen has sanitized Picasso's absinthe-drinking women of night and re-presented them here with a certain respectability that would appeal to the upper echelons of society.
By the time he completed the present work, the artist's dealers in Paris Bernheim-Jeune, Ambroise Vollard, Antoine Druet, and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (who devoted his very first exhibition to van Dongen), recognized the potential of subjects like the present one and staged solo shows of the artist's work that brought him considerable success. Indeed, his paintings of elegant Parisiennes such as this would earn him a place as a chronicler of the period.
The present work was once in the esteemed collection of the great French patron of the arts, Alphonse Kann. It was most likely sold by Kann's relation in the United Kingdom to a Dutch collector living in the United Kingdom, whose heirs sold the picture at auction in 1972. Soon after that sale, the picture was acquired by the family of the present owners, who have kept it in their private collection until now.
Sotheby's would like to thank the heirs of Alphonse Kann for their kind assistance in researching the provenance of this lot.
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