The opening part of the exhibition is a self-portrait about one meter high, painted around 1895 by van Dongen (1877-1968). The boy from Delphshaven, born into a working-class family, shows himself broad-shouldered, hands in hand. Trouser pockets rounded, his head slightly raised in aplomb. Thanks to its large build, it takes up almost the entire volume of the window behind it. The yellow and green ship masts of the harbor can be seen through the window.
The eighteen-year-old is on the eve of his departure to Paris. In 1897 he moved to a studio in the Montmartre district. Not to draw, but to paint. Although the sloping ceiling of the workspace barely allowed him to stand upright, it turned out to be a golden opportunity. The area is the epicenter of artists, a group of avant-garde youths who have little interest in academic art and mainstream norms and are looking for freedom in their chaos.
It is exactly the setting for Rotterdam’s graffiti and social graffiti. About 1897 he made a cover illustration for the publication “De Anarchie” by Pierre Kropotkin, which tells something of his sympathy. “I want to be a cartoonist for the people,” he once said.
At the same time, the artist flawlessly knows how to make the right contacts, win over art critics and enter into relationships with Parisian galleries of modern art, which was important at that time. “Watch out, I’ll be famous,” is also the artist’s statement in his early years. The Variegated Horse (c. 1895-1907) is a meter-sized oil on canvas of a horse on its hind legs, seemingly storming into the sky. It is one of the last two pieces of the exhibition at Singer Laren and may represent the young man’s ambition.
The translator of “Kes van Dongen, the way to success” is Anita Hopmans. The guest curator is a Van Dongen specialist and Senior Curator at the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The exhibition took two and a half years to create. Loans from museums and individuals come from “all over the world,” from New York to Japan. Prince Albert of Monaco, for example, lent Van Dongen’s portrait of boxer Jack Johnson. In 1908, Johnson became the first world heavyweight champion, which led to riots in America. Around 1914, the painter depicted him naked, with a tall black hat and walking stick in hand.
Fame all over the world
The exhibition includes 65 paintings, 25 drawings, ten posters (a wonderful portrait of Josephine Baker), and five ceramics. This gives the audience a good idea of the painter’s development and his path to international fame for the first time. His talent and ambition contributed to this, as well as a certain amount of luck. Such as a meeting with the well-known painter Théophile Alexander Steinlin at the time. Van Dongen sees him standing on a street corner with his drawings at the beginning of his stay in the Parisian capital. Steinlen was impressed and put the satirical magazine L’Assiette au Beurre on the artist’s trail. It is his first podium.
“One day I suddenly felt that I had to start painting,” said Van Dongen. Committed to the Parisian life of prostitutes, artists, circus performers, and working women, he made his debut as a painter in 1904 at the Parisian Galerie Vollard. It is an art sales agency that, together with Cézanne and Gauguin, represents change in painting. It is a success and then it goes like a spear. His works stand out in the same year at the Salon des Indépendants and at the Salon d’Automne in 1905, he was represented with Henri Matisse, among others. The bright colors of their art earned this group of artists the name “Les Fauves”, “The Wild Beasts”. Van Dongen joined them in 1906.
Picasso invited him to his studio complex Le Bateau-Lavoir, a later studio of the painter located next to the Folie-Bergère Theatre. There van Dongen was introduced to electric light, which he was the first artist to incorporate into his paintings. It uses a clear palette of bright green, phosphorescent yellow, and bright orange red. “His trademark,” says Jean-Rodolphe de Lorme, director of the Singer Museum Laren.
One day I suddenly felt that I had to start drawing […] Now I’m famous – that’s it, ”reads the full text of the man many years later. The observant painter of that time in his cramped studio in Montmartre is a famous painter who finds inspiration in women. He lives in a closet in a house in the Bois de Boulonge, leads a fashionable life, has modern customers and draws accordingly.
The history of “Little Blue Hat”, the image of an elegant Parisian, dates back to 1937. Seven years earlier, in 1930, the artist received French citizenship. Anita Hopmans: “The French always refer to Van Dongen as a ‘Dutch-born Frenchman.’ No, he is a Dutchman who came to France.”
“Kiss van Dongen, the way to success,” singer Laren. Guest curator Anita Hopmans. On display through May 7, open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Thursdays until 9:30 p.m.