When he arrived in Paris on July 12, 1897, Van Dongen had only a few paintings under his arm and an almost empty suitcase with two meager notebooks and a few stray pencils. The artist survived on a few odd-jobs here and there. Returning to Rotterdam’s red light district, Van Dongen would live among the pretty ladies of the night, selling the odd sketch here and there to local papers.

Back in Paris for the second time in 1900, Van Dongen would do some portraiture work for local, illustrated journals. Lady luck would finally smile at him. Fénéon, the famous art critic of the time, published a few of his sketches in the Revue Blanche and showed them to Vollard, the famous art dealer, who decided to exhibit his work. At the time, Van Dongen lived at 23, lace Ravignac – later to be known the world over as the Bateau Lavoir. Sketching for the satirical journal the “Assiette au Beurre” for which he would illustrate entire issues on several occasions, Van Dongen was finally making a living and could devote himself to painting.

He quickly became one of the key figures of the Fauvist movement. This striking character with his full, red beard, dressed in a sailor’s white uniform became, with Picasso, one of the big stars of the Bateau Lavoir. His paintings are dominated by an extreme sensitivity. To the artist, the very act of painting was in itself like quenching a carnal desire. Like Vlaminck, Van Dongen created his own style without studying at the School of Fine Arts.

He would move on to high society portraiture work (Brigitte Bardot sat for him in 1954), but remained ever faithful to a somewhat violent chromatic style remaining from his Fauvist years.


Kees Van Dongen, Bouquet de fleurs, a l’arum, 1912
Kees Van Dongen, Carrousel, Place Pigalle ou manège de cochons, circa 1904-1905