This steamy portrait of a bare-shouldered beauty dates from the height of van Dongen's involvement with the Fauves between 1905-1908. This was the pivotal period of van Dongen's career, when he participated in the 1905 Salon d'Automne. It was during that exhibition that the term 'Les Fauves' was coined at the sight of the vivid colors and free forms of Matisse and his associates. Van Dongen also exhibited with the Fauve group at Prath & Magnier in Paris in December of the same year and was mentioned alongside other artists in the Chronique des Arts: "At Prath & Magniers there is a gathering of avant-garde painters, the masters of the intense touch and forthright colour, the champions of the Salon d'Automne" (quoted in Anita Hopmans, The Van Dongen Nobody Knows, Early and Fauvist Drawings 1895-1912, Rotterdam, 1996, p. 67).
Van Dongen's bold use of color in his portraits came as a response to Matisse's groundbreaking paintings, such as Femme au chapeau, now considered to be one the Fauves' pivotal works, which scandalized Parisian critics at the Salon d'Automne of 1905. While the conflict in Matisse's work is achieved by the apparent contradiction between the wild, unrestrained handling of pigment and the apparently bourgeois subject, van Dongen in the present work celebrates the concurrent sensual appeal of vibrant color and the intimacy of the seductive woman's face. The use of rosy tones to achieve three-dimensional form relates to the similar technique utilized by Matisse in another Fauve masterpiece painted around the same time as the present work, Madame Matisse, Portrait à la raie (fig. 1) which also rejects the tradition of modelling through the use of chiaroscuro in favor of chromatic contrast and an expressive use of color.
It has been suggested that the model for the present painting was Fernande Olivier, Pablo Picasso's mistress during the first decade of the century (see fig. 2). In December 1905 van Dongen, with his wife Guus and their young daughter Dolly, moved to a studio in the Bateau-Lavoir, a building in Montmartre where Picasso, Herbin, Gris and other artists lived and worked. Van Dongen's studio was directly opposite that occupied by Picasso and Fernande, and over this period the two families became close. Fernande Olivier was born as Amélie Lang in 1881 but changed her name later in life so that she could escape an abusive husband. She met Picasso when he moved into the Bateau-Lavoir, where she lived and worked as an artist's model. In 1905 Fernande moved in with Picasso and remained his companion for the following six years. With her beautiful features and rich auburn hair, Fernande was an attractive woman known as 'La belle Fernande'. Between 1900 and 1905 she modeled for a number of painters and sculptors, including van Dongen. However, Picasso demanded she give up modelling for others as he was very jealous and possessive, often locking her in their apartment when he left. There is some disagreement about how he tolerated the numerous portraits van Dongen painted of her (see figs. 3 & 4), as John Richardson writes: "Daix thinks Fernande may have incurred her lover's wrath by modelling for his amorous friend Van Dongen; I am not so sure. 'La belle Fernande' was famously susceptible, very conscious of turning heads whenever she appeared in public" (John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, 1907-1917: The Painter of Modern Life, London, 1996, p. 20).
This picture has been known by several titles throughout its history. In recent years, it has been referred to as Femme à la cigarette, but it has also been called Cepue because of the artist's inscription on the reverse. In fact, this inscription is in Cyrillic and is pronounced "sertze," which explains the purpose of the second inscription. This is the Russian word for heart and could refer to the pendant worn around the figure's neck.
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, Madame Matisse, Portrait à la raie verte, 1905, oil on canvas, The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, J. Rump Collection
Fig. 2, Fernande Olivier with van Dongen's daughter Dolly. The photograph was taken in Picasso's studio in the Bateaux Lavoir in Paris, 1907.
Fig. 3, Kees van Dongen, Fernande Olivier, 1907, oil on cardboard, Musée Fabre, Montpellier
Fig. 4, Kees van Dongen, Portrait de Fernande, 1905, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby's, London, June 19, 2006, lot 19, sold: $5,407,407
Oil on canvas
Kees van Dongen
25 5/8 by 19 3/4 in. 65 by 50 cm
Louis Chaumeil, Kees van Dongen, Lausanne, 1967, no. 66, illustrated p. 318 (as dating from 1913 and with incorrect measurements; an erratum, published at a later date, corrected these errors)
Galerie de L'Art Moderne, Paris
M.H. Belien, Belgium (acquired from the above on May 13, 1955)
Acquired from the above