Kees van Dongen and the World of Fashion

Kees van Dongen, A Finger on her Cheek, 1910. Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Pictoright, Amsterdam
Kees van Dongen, A Finger on her Cheek, 1910. Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Pictoright, Amsterdam

All Eyes on Kees van Dongen
18 September 2010 - 23 January 2011

Painter, society artist and womanizer, Kees van Dongen painted the Parisian avant-garde nude or clothed. This autumn Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will present a selection of sixty masterpieces from international collections.

His models dressed in the haute couture of Paul Poiret and still inspire fashion designers like Vera Wang and John Galliano. ‘All Eyes on Kees van Dongen’ showcases this stellar artist’s sophisticated eye and his ideal of beauty.

This exhibition of the finest paintings by Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968) opens in Rotterdam on 18 September. The works will be coming from some of the world’s leading collections, from as far afield as New York, Geneva and Moscow. Many of the works featured are in private collections and are seldom if ever loaned out.

In the nineteen-twenties, Rotterdam-born Kees van Dongen was already being followed by the world press. The artist cut a flamboyant figure in Paris and was internationally renowned for his sensational portraits. Van Dongen’s lifestyle was controversial; his lavish, nightly studio parties were attended by film stars, famous politicians and the fashion models of the day. ‘Woman’ was his muse, her body his landscape and the young Brigitte Bardot his most famous model. His studio was the place to be. What Andy Warhol was to New York in the nineteen-sixties, Kees van Dongen was to the Paris of the nineteen-twenties - a society artist and Bohemian who brought added colour, glamour and excitement to the city.

Van Dongen came into contact with the world of fashion through the legendary fashion designer Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel’s rival. The two men became friends and Van Dongen was a regular guest at Poiret’s chic parties. Poiret’s work still influences modern designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano, who designs for Dior. Designer Vera Wang took the inspiration for one of her collections from Van Dongen’s fluent brushstrokes.
Poiret offered Van Dongen a new world with an exciting clientele and many commissions. Young models showed Poiret’s corsetless creations and he became famous for the softly draping, gleaming fabrics he used and his new approach to extravagant decorations and patterns. Van Dongen employed the Poiret style with the distinctive sleek lines and bare feet, split skirts, coloured shoes and modern elegance. He was one of the few artists to paint the innovation in the fashion world from the beginning of the twentieth century on.

Van Dongen’s work was seen as important in his lifetime. In the Netherlands the artist was regarded as the successful Dutchman, who -like Mondrian, who was also living in Paris at that time - was a success outside his own country. Despite the current economic crisis his paintings still fetch record prices.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will be exhibiting representative examples of Van Dongen’s earliest portraits and his most extravagant Parisian works. The paintings he made on his trips to Egypt, Spain and Morocco (1910 -13) are an important feature of the exhibition These experimental yet alluring portraits of women, with Oriental influences, intense colours and decorative accents, are some of his best works. The exhibition ends with acrobats, voluptuous women, scenes of nightlife and works from his earliest years in Paris and Rotterdam. Alongside the sixty paintings there are also drawings, ceramics and photographs from his studio.


The exhibition has been made possible by our chief sponsor, Unilever; our chief patron, the Turing Foundation; OC&C Strategy Consultants; Bank Giro Loterij, the Straver Fonds, administered by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds; Ploum Lodder Princen, Stichting Bevordering Van Volkskracht; Stichting Gifted Art  and through an indemnity grant provided by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. ‘All Eyes on Kees van Dongen’ is part of the official programme of  Holland Art Cities 2009-2010.