On the 31st October 1903. an exhibition called Salon d’Autumne first opened and showed works of Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Felix Vallotton, Henri Manguin, and with an homage to Gauguin who died seven months earlier. The exhibition was held the next year too but in 1905. rather different works were shown; most of the paintings exhibited were painted in bold, vibrant colours and the simplification of form was evident; Fauvism was born.
Kees van Dongen, a Dutch painter who lived and worked in Paris, was famous for his sensuous and garish portraits of Parisian beauties. Growing up in the outskirts of Rotterdam, van Dongen studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown and there he worked with J. Striening and J.G. Heyberg. From the age of fifteen he was likely to be seen at docs, painting sailors, ships that came from afar and also prostitutes. In 1897. he came to Paris and stayed there for seven months. In December 1899. he came to Paris again, this time for good.
His name became well known after he exhibited three of his works at the controversial Salon d’Autumne in 1905. His paintings, displayed right next to the ones of Matisse, were boldly coloured, sensual and provocative. The exhibition was very well received, and despite some of the critics who deemed the painters as fauves (wild beasts), this proved to be merely a beginning for this new rising art movement – Fauvism. In those times van Dongen, as part of the new wave of avant-garde artists, thought that art needed to be updated, considering it stuck in neo-impressionism. However, Fauvism originated from an extreme development of Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionism fused with Seurat’s Pointillism (other Neo-Impressionists’ pointillist tendencies, such as Signac’s, were influential). Soon Fauvism was transformed from a new avant-garde to a mainstream art movement until the Cubism became dominant, despite the comment of an art critic Camille Mauclair ‘A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public.‘
From all of van Dongen’s pots of colour, his Femme Fatale is the most appealing to me. Just look at those vivid reds, warm orange and yellow tones, hints of purple and magnificent greenish flesh; as if this femme fatale was an absinth fairy, enchanting and fatal to its consumers. The way she is holding her green toned breast with those long, jewellery decorated hands and gazing thoughtfully yet seductively at the viewer. Femme is dressed sumptuously in vivid red dress that is uncovering her so wanted treasure and despite all of those feathers in her raven coloured hair and all the heavy makeup and jewellery, she seems highly unimpressed. Centuries earlier gentleman were admiring sensual and plump Boticelli’s beauties, later they hopelessly gazed at Rembrandt’s, Fragonard’s and Winterhalten’s dames but this lady, this early twentieth century Femme Fatale is a modern women; sensuous, startlingly beautiful and – uninterested. This is the femme fatale from the same named song by Velvet Underground ‘Here she comes, you better watch your step/She’s going to break your heart in two, it’s true/It’s not hard to realize/Just look into her false colored eyes/She builds you up to just put you down, what a clown…‘ As everything in art ever was, at least for its time, this was provocative, this was the femme that real ladies were not expected to be, this femme was above social norms and classes, this femme belonged to van Dongen – his Femme Fatale in wild colours.