Dutch-French Fauvist painter, Cornelis Theodorus Maria ‘Kees’ van Dongen was born in Delfshaven, then on the outskirts, and today a borough, of Rotterdam on 26 January 1877. He was the second of four children in a middle-class family. In 1892, at the age 16, Kees van Dongen started his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam, working with J. Striening and J.G. Heyberg. During this period (1892–97), he frequented the Red Quarter seaport area, where he drew scenes of sailors and prostitutes, where he gained a reputation for his sensuous,and at times garish portraits.
(Left: “Dancer” c.1907 oil on canvas 115x75cm)
By 1897, van Dongen was living in an emigre community in Paris but returned to Rotterdam two years later. Eventually, he returned once more to Paris, to join Augusta Preitinger (“Guus”), whom he had met at the Academy. They married on 11 July 1901 and had two children together: a son who died a couple of days after birth in December 1901; and their daughter Augusta, “Dolly”, in 1905.
- Van Dongen participated in the controversial 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition along with Henri Matisse, and many others who were referred to as the Fauves (‘Wild Beasts’) as well as belonging to the German Expressionist group Die Brücke.
In 1906, Preitinger and van Dongen moved to the Bateau Lavoir at 13 rue Ravignan in Montmartre, where they were friends with the circle surrounding Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier.
- Guus took Dolly to see their families in Rotterdam in the summer of 1914, where they were caught by the outbreak of WWI. They were not able to return to Paris until 1918.
In 1917, van Dongen had become involved with a married socialite and fashion director Léa Alvin, also known as Jasmy Jacob. Under her influence he developed the lush colours of his Fauvist painting style. This earned him a solid reputation with the French bourgeoisie and upper class, where he was in demand for his portraits.
(Right: “Modjesko“, Soprano Singer (1908). Oil on canvas (100×81.3cm) Museum of Modern Art, New York (Gift of Mr. and Mrs .Peter Reubel, 1955).
- Preitinger and van Dongen divorced in 1921.
- In 1926, he was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour and in 1927 the Order of the Crown of Belgium in recognition of his contributions to art. By then, his and Alvin/Jacob’s relationship had ended.
- In 1929, the French government awarded him citizenship. Two of his works were collected that year by the Musée du Luxembourg.
From 1959, Kees van Dongen lived in Monaco. He died in his home in Monte Carlo on 28 May 1968. As a consequence, an extensive collection of his work is held by the New National Museum of Monaco.
Van Dongen is reported to have once said about his art: “Painting is the most beautiful of lies,” to which I can truly concur.