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    Kees van Dongen (Dutch, 1877-1968)
    Femme au buste nu, circa 1920
    Oil on board
    25-1/2 x 19-1/2 inches (64.8 x 49.5 cm)
    Signed lower right: Van Dongen --


    Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris;
    Private collection;
    [With]Jason Bloom Fine Works of Art, New York;
    Galerie de la Présidence, Paris;
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, June 27, 2000.

    A 1922 black-and-white photograph of Kees van Dongen's Parisian studio on rue Juliette-Lamber speaks volumes about his role as the portraitist of the demimonde and the beau monde. Here, a coffered ceiling and marble fireplace anchor paintings on the wall of three svelte women, a reclining nude, and a circus performer. Below, a carefully organized parade of portraits, either resting on easels or leaning against the mantel and wall, showcase his haute couture clients: a glamour girl in an evening gown with a plunging neckline, a model in an exotic turban and beads, a debutante in a strapless taffeta dress with fur-trimmed gloves, a bespectacled man in a tuxedo, and two women, one nude and sporting a flapper's bob, rendered in bust length. In the foreground, a coffee table doubling as a bar hints at late-night revelry. This is where van Dongen and his lover Jasmy Jacob, a fashion director known as "La Divine," hosted parties frequented by entertainers, millionaires, aristocrats, and politicians. This is where such glitterati as the author and countess Anna de Noailles, the Italian heiress Luisa Casati, and the cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier sat for their portraits, posing on the studio's satin-covered divans. And this is the milieu out of which the current lot, Femme au buste nu, was born.

    Raised in a village near Rotterdam, van Dongen arrived in Paris in 1897 as a fresh twenty-year-old art student. His introduction to Félix Fénéon, a well-known anarchist and editor of the literary magazine La Revue blanche, inspired him to take up illustration "with a cause," and his early subjects were the prostitutes, drinkers, and other late-night denizens of city's brothels, music halls, and boulevards. Van Dongen's Pointillist painting style from this period, influenced by his friendship with Maximilien Luce and Paul Signac, quickly shifted in 1905 when he met the Fauves André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, who championed bright colors and wildly slashing brushwork. Van Dongen exhibited with the Fauves at the Salon d'Automne for seven years and even continued his experimentation with pure color well past the end of the movement, in part due his discovery of Mediterranean light on a trip to Morocco and Spain in 1911.

    More than any of the Fauves, van Dongen specialized in the female form, delighting in the sensuality and suppleness of café concert singers and dancers, circus acrobats, prostitutes, and his own family members, particularly his Dutch wife, "Guus." The signature van Dongen woman, regardless of class, captivated viewers with her fleshy red lips and large, completely blackened, almond-shaped eyes. Parisian police were on occasion summoned to remove from exhibitions his paintings of nudes, shocking for their bold coloration and eroticism. Nonetheless, thanks to a successful one-man show at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1909, van Dongen's reputation as a painter of beautiful, voluptuous women began to spread both in France and abroad, and following World War I, wealthy Parisians inundated him with portrait orders. Leaving his wife for Jasmy Jacob and moving into a chic townhouse on the Bois de Boulogne, van Dongen painted portraits of women almost exclusively, celebrating the independent, intellectual, slender, and fashionable sophisticate. Indeed, "At the centre of van Dongen's universe stood Woman. Woman in her physical reality, seductive, fatale, who inspired him to write . . . 'le poème sensuel du monde.' Even though he painted woman in all the adornments which fashion forces upon her, he succeeded in lending her--beneath all these external trappings--her true countenance, her true gestures" (C. Wentinck, Van Dongen, Amsterdam, 1964, p. 9).

    Resembling the bust-length portraits in the 1922 photograph of van Dongen's studio, Femme au buste nu utilizes a Fauvist vocabulary to enliven the sitter, likely a prostitute. A flattened patchwork of broadly painted mint and apple greens both electrifies her figure and suggests an outdoor setting. In addition, van Dongen gesturally applies non-local color on the model herself: the dashing red outlines of her arms and the slashes of lavender, green, and pink on her torso transform her into a breathing creature, just as the violet dabs and snaky maroon twists of her curls energize her face. Like many of van Dongen's women, this smartly coiffed prostitute stares brazenly at the viewer, her pouty red lips and dark ovoid eyes asserting her enticing and mysterious beauty.

    At the same time, the countenance of the sitter in Femme au buste nu conveys a melancholy air, a sign that van Dongen continued to draw upon his realist training and admiration of the Old Masters. As a young student at the Academy of Arts and Science in Rotterdam, he had produced earth-toned, realist landscapes and portraits in the style of the contemporary Hague School. He had also carefully studied the expressive, psychological portraiture of Franz Hals and Rembrandt, which he later emulated in his paintings of Parisian prostitutes and entertainers. In fact, van Dongen so admired Rembrandt that he wrote a biography of him in 1927 in which he doubles as the Old Master, imagining him as a portraitist in modern-day Paris. Rembrandt's influence on Femme au buste nu can be seen in the model's penetrating and forlorn gaze and her slightly hunched shoulders. Indeed, fascinated by a woman's character and history as much as her physical beauty, van Dongen explained about his paintings of the demimonde: "I know every one of those women's histories, which are deeply tragic. They have experienced life in all its facets. . . . I cannot help painting [them] in garish colours; perhaps I do so in order to express the intensity of their lives" (Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam, Kees van Dongen, Rotterdam, 1990, p. 7). And herein lies the brilliance of a portrait like Femme au buste nu: van Dongen's ability to capture the complexity of woman, her outer elegance as well as her inner feelings.

    A certificate signed by Mr. Jacques Chalom des Cordes accompanies this lot.

    We are grateful to Mr. Jacques Chalom des Cordes for confirming the authenticity of this painting, which will be included in the Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2015
    9th Wednesday
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