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Kees Van Dongen

Netherlands Born in: 1877 Masterpieces
The conflicting, provocative artist, Kees Van Dongen, was born in 1877, in Delfshaven, the Netherlands. His work features at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam. He started by painting sailors and prostitutes going about their business in the red-light district. A committed anarchist turned high-society portrait painter, his career and his personality provoke debate, but have earned him some success.

After illustrating the publication, ‘Anarchism’, by Peter Kropotkin, alongside Jan Krudler, Kees Van Dongen settled in Paris. There, he met the art critic, Félix Fénéon, and artists such as Maurice de Vlamick and Henri Matisse, as well as Pablo Picasso. He displayed his work in 1904 at the ‘Salon des Indépendants’ (Exhibition of Private Artists), and then at the ‘Salon d’Automne’ (Autumn Exhibition) which saw the birth of Fauvism, the movement which the painter would go on to join. He moved to the ‘Bateau Lavoir’ (the Parisian residence, which housed a number of notable artists in the early 1900s), and spent time with Pablo Picasso. He continued to depict prostitutes - his artwork then became more violent, and did not always appeal to the tastes of the art critics. He had no difficulty in producing satirical cartoons for the ‘Revue Blanche’ magazine, testament to a certain cynicism in his work.

Shortly afterwards, he moved to the bourgeois suburbs of Paris, and produced portraits of women who belonged to the upper echelons of Parisian society: Brigitte Bardot, for example, would go on to have her portrait painted in 1959. Eroticised, slimmed down, with almond-shaped eyes, the women loved his portraits - the same could not be said for the art critics, who were frustrated by his approach and his inconsistent style.

Despite his appetite for scandal, Kees Van Dongen’s colourful pieces have a rightful place in art history. They were displayed at the ‘Musée du Luxembourg’ (Luxembourg Museum), and retrospective exhibitions were held at the ‘Musée d’Art Moderne’ (Museum of Modern Art) in 1967 and the Gianadda Foundation in 2002. He died in Monaco, in 1968.
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