An aristocratic and whimsical painter of worldly Paris, the Dutch-born Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968) is known for his portraits of women. Before the Great War, he made a name for himself as a Fauvist painter. His reputation was tarnished by his participation in a trip organized by the Nazis in 1941, who invited French painters to Berlin, including André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.

Born near Rotterdam to a middle-class family, Kees Van Dongen studied art at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. We are at the very end of the 19th century and the young artist is already attracted by the “red light district” where he draws prostitutes.

In 1899, Kees Van Dongen moved to Paris and married Guus, one of his compatriots, in 1901. He began working as an illustrator for anarchist newspapers and met Félix Fénéon, a leading figure of this movement and art critic.

Van Dongen embarked on the Fauvist adventure. He exhibited alongside Matisse at the famous Salon d’Automne of 1905, which created a scandal, notably with his “cage aux fauves”, a criticism formulated by Louis Vauxcelles and which signed the birth certificate of Fauvism. Because of his bright colors, his painting was considered outrageous. He lived for a time at the Bateau-Lavoir with his wife, neighbors of Picasso. In 1913, one of his paintings, The Spanish Shawl, caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne because of its theme, a prostitute shown in her nudity.

Van Dongen was known to lead an exuberant life. In 1916, seduced by the divine Léo Jasmy, he abandoned his wife and moved with her to a mansion in the Bois de Boulogne, at the Villa Saïd. The Dutchman carves out a solid reputation for himself in portraits of theatre actresses, painting jewellery and fabrics with wonder. He became a worldly painter.

In 1926, he was decorated with the Légion d’Honneur and three years later, his works became part of the national collections. He obtained French nationality in 1929.

In 1941, Van Dongen took part in a trip organized by the Third Reich with the help of the sculptor Arno Breker. For apparently non-ideological reasons, Van Dongen compromises himself. This episode will leave a mark on the artist’s reputation. Nevertheless, he remains in demand by the jet-set and paints the portrait of Brigitte Bardot in 1959. He died in Monaco in 1968..