Kees van Dongen is one of the great Dutch painters born in 1877 in Delfshaven in a relatively small family with four children. His father owned two malthouses. Unlike many artists, Kees is given complete freedom by his parents to follow his calling as a painter. “Watch out, I'm going to be famous.” After high school, he trained as a technical draftsman at the applied arts school in Rotterdam. Throughout his career he felt great admiration for Frans Hals and Rembrandt, who were far ahead of their time with their loose brushwork.
He also adopted the painting technique of the larger gesture from the so-called 'Generation of 1880', consisting of painters such as Isaac Israëls and George Hendrik Breitner. He will further develop this method of painting in his own career in the direction of expressionism. However, his subjects were more the unusual theme of raw daily life in Rotterdam, such as scenes from the red light district, which was located close to his education. It happened on the street there.
In 1897 he broke off his studies to initially settle in Montmartre, Paris, for a few months. A world city where cartoonists capture the world in newspapers and magazines and everything seems to move ten times faster than in the Netherlands. He remains in this metropolis and soon (after 5 years) became widely known within the avant-garde of the art world. In 1905, Picasso invited him to move into a studio in the Bateau-Lavoir. In the free Montmartre, Van Dongen is in the center of innovation.
His fast way of drawing and painting and his devotion to his profession are loved. In 1906 he joined the Fauves, through which he met the leading artist Henri Matisse. Fauvism stands for expressive pure colors. Derain and Matisse write to each other '... that he is different, namely not French'. French art is quite chauvinistic, something Van Dongen wants to avoid. Van Dongen's answer is trips to Tunisia and Egypt, making his work even more international.
In 1907 he was invited to join the German expressionist group Die Brücke. This Art Movement emerged from Expressionism which rejected all Academic rules. From that year onwards, again at Picasso's invitation, he worked in Bateau Lavoir on Rue Ravignan in Paris, where Amedeo Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire and Georges Braque also worked. A breakthrough. Van Dongen is completely part of it. Picasso spent some time with Van Dongen in North Holland and each of these masters created beautiful works there. This environment and the combination of talent and courage made Van Dongen one of the most important representatives of Fauvism and Expressionism. The parties he organizes in his studio are also part of his success.
In 1927 he had a major exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum. In the same year he published a biographical work on Rembrandt. In 1931, a major exhibition followed at the art dealership Frans Buffa in Amsterdam, followed by solo exhibitions in New York, London, Bordeaux and Brussels, among others. In 1967 he was given a retrospective exhibition at the Musée National Moderne in Paris, which was subsequently shown at Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in December of that year. Many more would follow. Kees van Dongen is still one of the 15 best-known and greatest Dutch modern artists. Also in our list. An exhibition 'Dare and Seduction' with around a hundred paintings and drawings by Kees van Dongen was shown in Singer Laren in 2023.
Kees van Dongen in Parijs - via Boijmans