Kees van Dongen

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Kees van Dongen was a renowned 20th century Dutch-French painter. There was a loose group of early twentieth-century Modern artists, whose works concentrated on strong hues over realistic portrayal, known as Fauvists. Van Dongen was one of the Fauves. Nonetheless, the group dissolved only few years after. He was recognized for his sensuous and decorated portraits.

Born on January 26, 1877, Cornelis Theodorus Maria ‘Kees’ van Dongen grew up in Rotterdam, Netherlands. At the age of 16, van Dongen enrolled himself at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He met a fellow painter, Augusta Preitinger, at the Academy. During his studies, he often visited the Red Quarter seaport area. The place gave him inspiration to draw sailors and prostitutes. Upon graduation, he went to Paris in 1897, where he stayed for two years before returning to his hometown. He met Augusta and the two got married in July 1901 and divorced in 1921. Kees began an affair with Léa Alvin, a married socialite and a fashion director.

Kees exhibited his work in Paris during his stay. Also he participated in the controversial exhibition, Salon d’Automne. He was accompanied by Henri Matisse, André Derain, Albert Marquet and others major Fauvists. They were labeled ‘Fauves’, meaning ‘Wild Beasts’, by the art critic, Louis Vauxcelles, owing to the bold color scheme of their work. Kees was also involved with the Die Brücke, a Germ Expressionist group. Similar to his contemporaries he was the proponent of avant-garde wave who supported the renewal of painting instead of following the neo-impressionist style. He also made acquaintance with a group associated with Pablo Picasso.

Painting was the prime source of his income. Besides he also used to make money by selling satirical sketches. He made these sketches for the newspaper Revue Blanche. Another source of his income was costume themed ball parties that he used to throw. People paid admission fees to gain entrance. It was not as lucrative but it did support artist’s lifestyle.

Kees van Dongen made acquaintance with Lea Alvin after the First World War. She was also the one who influenced his Fauvist style of employing lush colors. That new technique incorporated in these paintings rendered him to step up the social ladder. It established his reputation and helped him make acquaintance with the French bourgeoisie and posh families, who approached him for his portrait painting. He was commissioned for several portraits with the subject being Leopold III of Belgium, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Barthou and Anna de Noailles.

Van Dongen was a shrewd and clever painter. One time he commented on his painting of women that if one makes them slimmer and enlarge their jewelry, one can easily make them ravishing. At one other occasion he stated, “Painting is the most beautiful of lies”.

The French government honored him with the title of a Knight of the French Legion of Honour, in 1926. The following year he received the title of the Order of the Crown of Belgium. The artist was honored for his invaluable contribution to French art society. Shortly after, the government offered him the French citizenship. The museum, Musée du Luxembourg, collected two of his major works for display. Notwithstanding his ever increasing commercial fame, the value of his work during 1950s waned socially and commercially. Kees van Dongen parted from this world in 1968 while he was living in Monte Carlo.

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