Kees van Dongen, born Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen on the 26th of January 1877 in Rotterdam, was the second of four childeren from a family that owned two malt-houses. After finishing secondary school, Van Dongen entered Rotterdam's Academy of Fine Arts in 1894. His parents always encouraged their son's artistic ambitions, and even allowed him to set up a studio in the attic of their house. In 1897 he spent a few months in Paris with his friend and companion Ten Cate. Back at the Academy in Rotterdam he attended the courses of Striening and Heyberg, where he also met Augusta Preitinger (Guus), a fellow student whom he rejoined in Paris in 1899 and married in 1901. Although Paris was Van Dongen's home from then on, he returned to The Netherlands frequently to spend his holidays there and visit his family.
Van Dongen lived in the art district of Montmartre at the Impasse Girardon and sold satirical sketches of popular life to newspapers while trying to establish himself as an artist. His first success came in 1904, when he produced enough canvases to stage an exhibition at Vollard's. He also sent six paintings to the Indépendants and two to the Salon d’Automne. The subject matter of these pieces was partly Dutch and partly French.
Following his exhibition at Vollard's, Van Dongen's career took off. By January of 1905 he had several pieces on display at Berthe Weill's. He submitted two watercolours and six paintings to the Indépendants and his two Salon pieces are hung in the Fauves' room. He also took part in the group exhibit at the Prath & Magnier Gallery, while Druet also showed a small collection of his work. For a while, Van Dongen experimented with pointilism, but gave up on that and began looking for a more liberating form of creation. Slowly his truculence and vigor found full expression in paintings charged with colour and texture. In the end his technical skill, in combination with a firm, vigorous touch, enabled him to achieve a brilliant play of colours. Throughout his career, Van Dongen maintained strong links with his native country, not only painting many Dutch subjects, but also regularly meeting with Dutch artists like Toorop, Sluijters and Van Rees in Paris. Van Dongen exhibited with them as well as Thorn Prikker at the Rotterdam Art Circle in 1906 and in Amsterdam in 1907. Probably due to a contract with Kahnweiler, he did not submit any pieces to the Salons in 1907, but had a number of exhibitions in 1908: one in Düsseldorf, another at Kahnweiler’s in March, and a third in November at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, which bought his work. By then, his reputation was so well established that he was the only one invited to exhibit with the artists of Die Brücke, with whom he had strong affinities. Van Dongen's appetite for pleasure and decadence increasingly forced him to turn his back on the gloomy suburban world of his early career. He moved to the Rue Lamark, probably to be closer to the Folies Bergères with its night-time lounges. The ladies, their escorts and even the performers there presented him endless creative material. The resulting pictures make up the bulk of canvases submitted to the 1909 Salon.
From this point onward, he began painting more and more portraits in line with his desire to gain a well-known reputation. Nevertheless, he continued to indulge his taste for ostentatious behavior that governed his entire life. From an early stage of his career, he displayed a fascination with the nude, and painted women frequenting the Folies Bergères, but also his wife Guus. His nudes are mostly buxom displays of naked flesh, embellished with lavish colours and often depicted in provocative poses. They convey an impression of such splendid passion that one almost forgets their immodesty. These portraits, although occasionally causing scandals to flare, for example at the opening of his Bernheim exhibition in January 1913, also earned him the status of a master of sensual pleasure. Going far beyond the historical limits of Fauvism, Van Dongen was one of the few members of the group to preserve the impulse that drove him to depict what he called a "warm and ardent life." His nudes were not the only expression of this. Simple occasions, such as a charming scene, a graceful figure, a visit to Spain or Morocco, a stroll at Deauville, or a journey to Egypt became a pretext for him to glorify mundane details with his lively brush and glowing colours, which he skillfully mixed with grays, ochers and blacks. As one of its most active protagonists, Van Dongen indulged in the masquerades of the wild postwar period. Yet when the allure of the limelight wore off, Van Dongen retreated and limited himself to painting fashionable portraits with high social and commercial appeal. He died in his home in Monte Carlo at age 91 in 1968.
2008: Kees Van Dongen, 1877-1968, New National Museum of Monaco, Monaco
1990: Kees Van Dongen, Museum Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1974: Les Fauves, Seibu Galleries, Tokyo, Japan
1972: Hommage a Van Dongen, Galerie Paul Valloton, Lausanne, Switzerland
1967: Van Dongen, Musee National d'arte Art Moderne, Paris, France
1946: Mostra di pittori francesi, Galerie dello Zodiaco, Rome, Italy
1911: Van Dongen, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, France
Born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on January 26th, 1877
Died in Monte Carlo, Monaco on May 28th, 1968