Kees van Dongen, originally Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen, was a Dutch-French artist first influenced by the Hague School in his early years as a painter. However, the realist and usually grey influences from the Hague school would, after 1905 and his part taking in the Salon d’Automne, become more radical in use of form and color.

Alongside Henri Matisse, André Derain, Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Charle Camoin and Jean Puy, Kees van Dongen would become part of the Fauves (Wild Beasts). The Fauves were a group of modern artists emphasizing painterly qualities and strong colors, leaving the realist values retained by the impressionists behind. The nightlife came to be the central theme in his paintings from the period 1905-1910, which is considered to be his most important.

Kees van Dongen. Image via Sartle Kees van Dongen. Image via Sartle

La lecture or Rabelais was one of the first masterpieces made by the artist following the Fauve period. Painted in Paris in 1911, the painting clearly shows his worldly inspiration and engagement with the Avant-Garde of the 1910’s.

During his artistic peak, when this painting was made, Kees van Dongen was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants as well as Salon d’Automne. After exhibitions in Munich, Brussels, and London and joining the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery together with Matisse, Bonnard, and Utrillo, van Dongen’s luck is made and he can enjoy the material comfort of being a celebrity painter, parading among the Parisian upper class. This also allowed the artist to explore the Mediterranean where he could finally study the sunlight he for so long had been drawn to.

The Mediterranean region will change van Dongen’s imagery again, this time with a new and warm energy. He travels to Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Egypt. Here his essential subject is the Spanish gypsy women, Ouled Naïl women in particular but also street scenes, landscapes and playing animals. In La lecture, we can clearly see how his time in the Mediterranean renewed his style with a subtle color range and fine lines compared to his fauvist works.

See all works included in Leclere's upcoming sale on June 25, 2018.