Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen was born in Delfshaven on 26 January 1877. 133 years after his birth, Van Dongen is as much a worldwide legend as he was in the roaring twenties when, together with his friend Pablo Picasso, he enlivened the Parisian scene with his brilliant works, his opulent parties and his Dutch personality.
At the beginning of 1900 Van Dongen no longer felt at home in his native Holland, which he considered too stiff. Would Van Dongen be amazed at the impact his work continues to have more than a century later? Even during his own lifetime, the Rotterdam-born artist was in great demand and his paintings sold for record prices. There was an outcry about the number of nudes in his exhibition at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 1947. Standing next to a large recumbent nude by George Hendrik Breitner, Van Dongen said: ‘I don’t understand why they hang that here’. And gesturing to a still life with fruit and a plucked duck: ‘And that one has no feathers!’ He added that he would never return to the Netherlands unless the cows wore brassieres.
More than half a century later, his most beautiful works are reassembled in the museum where his nudes once shocked the city council. This time there will be no fuss about the nudes. Van Dongen is being celebrated throughout the city. There are special Van Dongen deals in hotels, including Hotel Pincoffs, which has original works by Van Dongen. The Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam is holding an exhibition based around a specific work by Van Dongen, there was recently a Kees van Dongen painting day for amateurs in Delfshaven, and various shops in the city – including De Bijenkorf and Selexyz Donner – have Van Dongen window displays. You will probably also catch a glimpse of the artist at the railway station. You can enjoy a Van Dongen menu and/or a Van Dongen pastry. The museum shop is stocking a range of Van Dongen items from calendars to books and of course the new standard work on Kees van Dongen, a richly illustrated catalogue compiled by guest curator and art historian Anita Hopmans. Van Dongen is one of Rotterdam’s most illustrious sons. Don’t miss this exhibition.