Cornelis Theodorus Marie van Dongen, known as Kees, was born on the 26 January 1877 in Delfshaven, near Rotterdam. At the age of sixteen, van Dongen began taking evening courses at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Rotterdam, which he continued up until his first trip to Paris in 1897. In 1898, two of his watercolours were included in a group exhibition at the Parisien gallery, Le Barc de Boutteville, where leading critic Félix Fénéon saw van Dongen’s work and became a devoted advocate for the rest of his career. Van Dongen would go back to Holland later that year, forced by his personal financial situation, but swiftly returned to Paris, settling in Montmartre, in 1899.
In 1901, van Dongen would exhibit at Ambrose Vollard’s gallery for the first time. He also began to collaborate on numerous periodicals, including La Revue blanche, Gil Blas, L’Indiscret, and Le Rire, providing illustrations and satirical sketches. In Paris, he would frequent the Bateau-Lavoir and the Cirque Médrano, where he met Picasso, Vlaminck and Derain. Van Dongen exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne for the first time in 1904, the same year he had his first solo show at Vollard’s gallery. He would also exhibit in the infamous Salon d’Automne in 1905, where Louis Vauxcelles coined the term ‘Fauve’.
Van Dongen’s style up until c. 1905-06 was characterised by an individual style of neo-Impressionism: the use of ordered broad brushstrokes in thick impasto to depict everyday scenes as well as portraits, nudes and landscapes. He would gradually embrace the lush colours of Fauvism and as his style matured, abandoned the repetitive impasto in favour of a more fluid rendering of his subjects. In 1908, he exhibited with the German Expressionist group Die Brücke, who had contacted him following an exhibition of his at Albert Flechtheim’s gallery in Düsseldorf.
Van Dongen remained in Paris until 1914, when he returned to Rotterdam. After the First World War, he came back to Paris, and developed a reputation for his paintings of fashionable life, particularly portraits of insolently glamorous women depicted with wide eyes and bright lips, which would sustain him for the rest of his life. During the 1920s and 1930s, singers, actors, high society and royalty were amongst his commissions, including Arletty, Jean Louis Barthou, Sacha Guitry, Leopold III of Belgium, Anna de Noailles and Maurice Chevalier. After the Second World War, van Dongen would exhibit at the Venice Biennale (1954) and painted the portrait of Brigitte Bardot in 1958. He died on 28 May 1968, in Monte Carlo.
Van Dongen’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA); the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; the Albertina, Vienna; Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Rijksmusuem, Amsterdam; Musée Van Gogh, Amsterdam; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.