Lot 27
  • 27

Kees van Dongen

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
965,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Kees van Dongen
  • La femme aux chats
  • signed van Dongen (lower centre)
  • oil on canvas
  • 81.5 by 100.5cm.
  • 32 by 39 1/2 in.


Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist on 21st April 1914)

Galerie Pétridès, Paris 

Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in the 1950s)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Edmond des Courières, Van Dongen, Paris, 1925, illustrated pl. 35

Louis Chaumeil, Van Dongen, L’homme et l’artiste – la vie et l’œuvre, Geneva, 1967, mentioned p. 212

Catalogue Note

La Femme aux Chats, painted in 1912, was long believed to have been executed at the start of the 1920s, however the records of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris confirm that the gallery acquired the work from the artist in April 1914. The harmonious composition and the overall decorative effect of the painting distinguish it as a particularly early and successful work in the manner in which Van Dongen worked for the rest of his career. Discussing the artist’s tendency to paint for decorative effect, Louis Chaumeil mentions the present work: ‘design and colour progressed more towards the ornamental. Paintings such as La Femme aux Chats, drawings like Maternité, and the decorative panels testify to this. Pleasure has evolved. One simply feels the painter to be happy; his compositions combine what is pleasing to the eye and what is joyful. The man's happiness flourishes’ (L. Chaumeil, op. cit., Geneva, 1967, p. 212)

Donald Kupsit suggests that van Dongen’s use of the female nude shows a ‘special character of this fascination, indicated by the attempt to reduce the female body to a crude mass of colour, implies a special desire, a special wish to be seduced: the physical intimacy communicated amounts to identification with the female. It is an identification which confirms the artist’s power – which appropriates female power for his art. For me, his most important pictures are those of women’ (D. Kupsit, Kees van Dongen (exhibition catalogue), Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1989, p. 37).  As van Dongen himself explained: 'I love anything that glitters, precious stones that sparkle, fabrics that shimmer, beautiful women who arouse carnal desire... painting lets me possess all this most fully' (quoted in Marcel Giry, Fauvism, Fribourg, 1981, pp. 224-6).

In a telling gesture the nude toys with the cats using her long hair to tempt them and to obscure her own features which seems at once coquettish and intimate. The inclusion of various animals in his works such as birds, cats and dogs (fig. 1), give coded significance to the female figures they accompany, for example dogs may represent fidelity, whilst cats are used to imply a certain lasciviousness. This painting belongs to a group of works depicting performers and courtesans that the artist completed on the eve of the First World War, when he was establishing his reputation as the painter of the Parisian demi-monde. In March 1912 Van Dongen rented a new studio in Montparnasse at 33 rue Denfert-Rochereau. As Anita Hopmans noted: This pre-war Montparnasse, where Van Dongen stayed until 1916, was the hub of fancy-dress parties’ (A. Hopmans, All Eyes on Kees van Dongen (exhibition catalogue), Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2010, p. 100), and the artist frequently hosted them in his vast studio (fig. 2). The cafés and concert halls of the area were filled with young cabaret performers and prostitutes who were willing to model, and like so many artists of his day, van Dongen was transfixed by their lurid beauty. Ironically, those most impressed with van Dongen's achievements were the grandes dames of Parisian society, who began commissioning portraits from him in the 1910s, establishing him as a painter of women par excellence. Gaston Diehl has written the following on these pictures: ‘The vitality of his need for immediate pleasure took even more concrete form through his development […] 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’ (Gaston Diehl, Van Dongen, Milan, n.d., p. 41).