Tag Archives: Fauvism

Kees van Dongen – ‘Painting is the most beautiful of lies’

18 Feb

Painting is the most beautiful of lies.’ – Kees van Dongen

1910s La Casati by Kees Van Dongen1918. La Casati by Kees Van Dongen

Kees van Dongen was a Dutch born French Fauvist painter famous for his sensual, somewhat gaudy female portrait, infallibly permeated with avant-garde and mystique. Out of all the Fauvists, Kees van Dongen’s work is the most appealing to me. His paintings have a great charisma for me; the decadency, the sultry face expressions of van Dongen’s ladies, palette of cold and vibrant colours, and those brilliant blue-greys, it’s all just enchanting to me. The close line between banality and glamour, clash between elegance and eroticism makes a powerful combination which draws the viewers in a world of false glamour and bleakness; a prelude to the Roaring twenties. Kees van Dongen’s female figures have often been described as ‘half drawing-room prostitute, half sidewalk princess‘.

1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste

Kees van Dongen’s paintings have a strong erotic, modernly sensual vibe, which is not strange as he was a ‘ladies man‘. The combination of eroticism and vibrant colours made his paintings very popular in the First World World and the years immediately after the war. Still, some found his paintings too repetitive and his best work is considered to be done before 1920. Even at the age of fifteen, while he was still in the Netherlands, he used to visit the docs and sketch sailors from afar, and courtesans that gathered there too. In 1899. Kees left for Paris for good. He participated in the exhibition and Salon D’Autumne in 1905; the exhibition was controversial but it set a scene for a new art movement; the Fauvism.

Kees was one of the painters of the new generation of artists with avant-garde tendencies and an enormous elan for improvement. Main characteristics of Fauvism were vibrant colours and strong brush strokes; raw energy thrown on canvas, each brush stroke overwhelmed with emotions and passion. The combination of the two proved to be a particularly powerful one as the works of Fauvists are still valued today, and, although Kees van Dongen isn’t the most popular of them, his painting evoke the spirit of the time better than anyone elses, at least for me.

1920s Marchesa Casati by Kees van Dongen1917. The Bowl of Flowers – Kees van Dongen

This particular painting ‘The Bowl of Flowers‘, shown above, captivated me the most these past days. The painting shows a rich and eccentric heiress, Luisa Casati. She was an Italian heiress, muse, patron of arts, and in the first place an extravagant society hostess, a femme fatale who scandalised and delighted European high society for three decades. Luisa is the epitome of decadency and eccentricity and she lived her life with passion, relishing in abundance. It won’t come as a surprise that she commissioned many portraits of her to be painted from artists such as Giovanni Boldini, Romaine Brooks, and Kees van Dongen as well.

On this painting, Kees van Dongen used his tested technique of elongated figures, large eyes and strange vibrant yet mystical colours. As he was famous for portraying rich and fashionable ladies and society hostesses, he commented one time ‘The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished.‘ I especially love the composition, how Luisa was placed on the far left instead of the usual central position common for portraits, and find it very interesting how she turned her back on the viewers, intriguing them even more. Her figure is elongated, her hands are thin, her waist is tiny, and that greenish skin colour, that sickly absinthe shade of green. Her pearl necklace, red high-heel shoes and thin flimsy shawl are here only to round off her mystical, sensuous and dreamy figure with all its decadency and avant-garde mood which is so appealing even today.

1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen.1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen

1913. Kees van Dongen - Tamara, The Painter’s Muse1913. Kees van Dongen – Tamara, The Painter’s Muse

1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen

Kees van Dongen’s ‘Femme Fatales‘ live in their own world; trapped in avant-garde, bursting with beauty and modern kind of sensuality, living at the clash of glamour and decadence. They are mythical creatures, divine and garish at the same time, living at the verge of dreams and reality; they are the fruit of Kees van Dongen’s imagination, so wonderful, so timeless, and so surreal.


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – A Vivid Expressionist ‘Bridge’

9 Nov

In 1905. a group of German expressionist artists was formed in Dresden. The group took the name The Bridge (Die Brücke) by a quote from the novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche ”What is great in a man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz

Although a student of architecture, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner fully committed himself to art since 1905. when he founded the artists group called The Bridge, along with two other architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel. The group aimed to create a new form of expressionism which would form a bridge between the past and the present. They found inspiration in works of Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald, as well as contemporary avant-garde movements. Their works were compared with their French peers, The Fauvists, who, although called the beasts (fauves) appeared tame by comparison. However, both movements were fond of primitive art, showed interest in expressing extreme emotions through vivid and non-naturalistic colours, both groups enjoyed a crude drawing technique  and shared an antipathy to complete abstraction.

Typical paintings of the group that include the street scenes with melancholic and agonizing mood, and erotic nudes, make the Fauvists seem tame to comparison. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings are perhaps the most appealing to me; I’m very much fond of his Berlin street scenes with hectic, yet melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere. Kirchner’s studio in Dresden became a place of gathering for the artists who were drawn to the liberal atmosphere; social conventions were rejected and nudity and casual love making became typical venues for the studio. His studio was described as: ”…that of a real bohemian, full of paintings lying all over the place, drawings, books and artist’s materials — much more like an artist’s romantic lodgings than the home of a well-organised architecture student.” Still, this liberal atmosphere and casualty proved to be inspirational for this group of artists isolated themselves in this working class neighborhood in Dresedn and absorbed the dark mood of it, rejecting their own bourgeois background. Models from the same social circles posed for Kirchner and the rest of the group, most famous of them being a fifteen years old girl named Isabella. She was described by another painter from the group, Fritz Bleyl, as “a very lively, beautifully built, joyous individual, without any deformation caused by the silly fashion of the corset and completely suitable to our artistic demands, especially in the blossoming condition of her girlish buds.

In Kirchner’s ‘Dresden phase‘ his emphasis in painting was on nudes and female portraits in vivid colours whilst in his ‘Berlin phase’ he focused more on the street scenes. In 1906. he met Doris Große who would be his model until 1911. when he moved to Berlin. In his Dresden phase, Kirchner focused on female portraits with natural background and an emphasis on spontaneity. Besides the historical German influences, artists of the Bridge movement also favoured the works of Gauguin and Van Gogh; they influenced Kirchner with their flat colour application and the heavy brush strokes.

1911. Ernst Ludwig Kirchne - Weiblicher Akt mit Hut

1908. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Dodo und ihr Bruder

1906. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Doris with Ruff Collar

1907. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Sitzende Dame (Dodo)

1909. Dodo with japanese umbrella - Kirchner1909. Kirchner - Marzella

”The German artist looks not for harmony of outward appearance but much more for the mystery hidden behind the external form. He or she is interested in the soul of things, and wants to lay this bare.”

Kees van Dongen – Femme Fatale in Wild Colours

7 Sep

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.

1905. Kees van Dongen, Femme Fatale1905. Kees van Dongen – Femme Fatale

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.