As a chronicle of his times, van Dongen’s portraits of French society from the 1910s to the 1940s are of undeniable importance. Despite or perhaps because of the explicitly sexual nature of his early work and reputation for courting controversy, in the 1920s his images of gamine young women came to symbolize all that was fashionable. To have one’s portrait painted by the notorious Dutchman became a coveted status symbol. "He was a frequent visitor to Deauville, where the smart world gathered, and to the cabarets and restaurants of Paris” (Denys Sutton in Cornelius Theodorus Marie Van Dongen (exhibition catalogue), University of Arizona Museum of Art Tucson, 1971, p. 46). His name was synonymous with celebrity.
But his psychological observations of women from the so-called "cocktail crowd" of the period are often framed simply in terms of a pitiless, caustic and sardonic critique. As one critic put it “van Dongen was the Juvenal of the age, not the Sargent” (Stuart Preston “Kees van Dongen, Paris,” in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 132, no. 1047, 1990, p. 429). The artist's typical caricature is one of an elegant, androgynous woman dripping with pearls, “...a cigarette holder thirty centimeters long protrudes from lips painted a bloody purple; her cheeks are coated with powder, a blue-tinged halo encircles her eyes. With his cruel brush, van Dongen captures this androgynous figure for posterity” (Jacques Chastenet, Quand le boeuf montait sur le toit, Paris, 1958, pp. 124-25).
With Loulou however, the caricature does not apply: androgynous and flapper-like certainly, but although apparently nude she is hardly indecent or coquettish. Unlike other bare-shouldered models of his, she does not even wear a necklace. Far from being cruel, this is a tender if melancholy portrait in which the status of the sitter does not distract from van Dongen’s extraordinary gift for color that was so apparent when he first emerged as an artist. The bold palette restates his ability to break down “the harmonies of the rosy skin, in which he discovers acid greens, orange reds, phosphorous yellows, vinous lilac, electric blues” (Exposition Van Dongen (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1908, n.p.).