In many of my blogs I have featured European artist who had ancestors who were part of the European Jewish community such as Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Max Liebermann, Diego Rivera and Isaac and Joseph Israels. As I look down the list of Jewish painters it appears to be dominated by male artists. In this blog today I want to feature one of the great female Jewish painters, Sionah Tagger, who was one of the pioneers of Modernist painting in Israel.
Sionah Tagger was born in Jaffa, Israel on August 17th 1900. She was the eldest daughter of Shmuel and Sultana Tagger, who were members of the Ahuzat Bayit group, the founders of Tel Aviv. Their house where she was born was at 3 Rothschild Boulevard and was the first two-storey house in Tel Aviv. Her ancestors hailed from Spain and in the latter part of the fifteenth century they moved to Holland and then later they lived in Germany and Bulgaria. Sionah’s father Shmuel, when he was just an infant, left Bulgaria with his family and immigrated to Palestine in 1868. In 1890, when he was twenty-two-years old, he married Sultana, who was the daughter of a wealthy resident of the Old City in Jerusalem. The newly-weds moved to Nahalat Shiva, the third neighbourhood built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1860s. Later, they moved to Jaffa, where Shmuel set up a business importing furniture and trading in leather. As a practicing Jew, Schmuel was involved in the founding of Jaffa’s central synagogue and of the Ohel Moed synagogue in Tel Aviv.
Sionah Tagger had seven brothers and sisters – Asher, Baruch, Miriam, Shoshana, Hezkia, Shalom and Yosef. She was the oldest girl. Sionah attended a number of different schools in Jaffa, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem including the School for Girls in Neve Tzedek, the Levinsky Teachers Seminar and the Alliance School in Jerusalem, before starting her first artistic education with Avraham Eisentein-Aldema, one of the early Israelie bohemians. From there she began evening classes at the Hatomer Cooperative Studio at the Gymnqsia Herzliya in Tel-Aviv, which had been founded by Yaacov Peremen. Yosef Constantinovsky (Constant) and Yitzhak Frenkel were the most important painting teachers at the studio. Both instilled in their students the spirit of Russian Futurist Cubism, which was based on French art.
From the age of twenty-one, Sionah enrolled on a course at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem, despite her former teachers being opposed to the Academic, Romantic style of the Bezalel School’s artistic training. Whether she had been swayed by the views of her previous art teachers, Sionah was one of the students who protested against Boris Shatz, the founder of the Belazel School and Abel Pann one of the principal lecturers for their conservative approach
Sionah first exhibited some of her works at the “First Artistic Exhibition” organized by Ferman at Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv. In the late 1923 with support from her family she travelled to Paris, where she stayed for two years, living in the Montparnasse district of the capital. She attended the newly opened academy of André Lhote which was situated close to the Montparnasse railway station. The academy of André Lhote was much sought after and attracted an unprecedented number of international students. During her time in Paris, she studied draughtsmanship, composition and painting and over time she became influenced by Cubism, the revolutionary new approach to representing reality. The movement was founded by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1907/8 but by the 1920’s when Sionah was in Paris she was attracted to the Fauvist works of André Derain. Although she returned home in 1925, she became the first female member of the Hebrew Arts Association. She revisited the Lhote Academy during her stay in Paris in 1930/31, as well attending the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
After two years, Sionah returned to Israel and joined the local group of modern artists. They organised many exhibitions, some at the Ohel Theatre, at the Tower of David in Jerusalem. In 1931, Tagger held a solo exhibition at Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv, which was titled “Framed Portraits.” Sionah also participated in several exhibitions in Paris. On December 7th 1934 she gave birth to her son Avraham who would later become a member of the Knesset from 1977 to 1996 and for a time was the Minister of Agriculture. In 1938, Sionah exhibited her paintings in Cairo, at the Friedman-Goldenberg Gallery.
During World War II, four of her brothers joined the British army and in 1942, Sionah Tagger, who at the time had an eight-year-old son, volunteered for the British Army, serving in one of the British army’s ATS divisions where she served mainly in Egypt and in the Western Desert where they carried out administration work. They were later also trained as ambulance and delivery drivers. World War II was at its peak, and the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine was in danger. In 1944, Sionah was released from the army and went back to Tel Aviv, where she held a large exhibition of her paintings in the lobby of Habima Theatre. The exhibition included 40 oil paintings, 30 watercolours and sketches depicting the experiences of female soldiers in the British army.
Although she had extended stays in Paris, she also journeyed around Germany, Italy and Spain but always returned to her Israeli homeland where she would paint local landscapes. In 1948 Tagger represented Israel in the Venice Biennale. In the Northern Israeli town of Safed there was an artist’s colony. The founding members of the Artists’ Colony settled in Safed shortly after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and they took over an abandoned mosque which they turned into an exhibition centre for their artists’ cooperative. This Artists’ Colony was very important in the development of Israeli art.
Sionah arrived in Safed in 1951 and bought a nineteenth-century church at the heart of the city’s Christian-Arab neighbourhood. A short time after she bought the building, Sionah related that a priest had come to the house to carry off the bell that had been located in the church’s bell tower. Thirty years after settling in Safed Sionah recalled early life in the Safed Colony:
“…The views and alleyways lured painters to Safed. In the evenings we would walk around the city and talk about art. After Castel came Isakov, Shemi, Frankel, Marzer, Holtzman, Amitai, Lerner, Zachs and myself. We had no electricity during the artist’s colony’s first days, and so we used oil lamps instead. Our parties were all illuminated by the light of an oil lamp, and each one of us would tend to it in turn. Water was also scarce, and so we would carry water in cans from the dormant spring located in the artists’ colony…”
Tagger held over 40 solo exhibitions, partly because she had to make her living from the sale of her works, and she participated in numerous group exhibitions in Israel and abroad. Sionah Tagger died on June 16th 1988, aged 87.
My artist today was born Marie-Joséphine Vallet and it was not until later in her life that she changed it to Jacqueline Marval. She was the second of eight children of her parents who were both teachers. Jacqueline Marval was Born in Quaix, near Grenoble, France on October 19th 1866. Her parents, wanting their daughter to follow in their footsteps, persuaded her to become an educator and by 1884 she had a teaching degree. However, teaching was not for her and she began to spend much of her time painting. In 1886, aged twenty, she married Albert Valentin, a travelling salesman. Their marriage did not prove a success despite Marval giving birth to a son. The end of the marriage came shortly after their six-month-old baby died and the couple divorced in 1891. Now that she had become a divorcee she had to earn money to survive and she took up a job in a clothing factory in which she made waistcoats, gilets and vests and soon due to her ability she became a very proficient tailor and embroiderer.
She lived briefly in her hometown of Grenoble, where in 1894, she met the painter François-Joseph Girot and she moved with him to Paris. A year later she left Girot and became enamoured with another artist, Jules Flandrin who had studied under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts. Vallet and Flandrin lived together in rue Campagne-Première in the Quartier du Montparnasse. It was through her relationship with Flandrin that Marval decided to become a professional artist. It was in 1900 when Vallet took on the pseudonym Jacqueline Marval, “Marval” being the composite of her first and last name “MARie VALlet.”
The Salon des Indépendents was created in 1884 in Paris by a group of young artists, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and others who were tired of having their work judged by a bunch of tradition-bound academic artists wishing to be able to freely exhibit their works and free themselves from the influence of any jury. The Salon des Indépendants was a chance for them to show their work directly to the public. Despite having her first submissions rejected by the Salon des Indépendants in 1900, the following year she managed to have ten of her paintings under her new name, Jacqueline Marval accepted at the 1901 Salon des Indépendants. Ambroise Vollard bought ten paintings from her, including Odalisque au Guépard. The term odalisque means a chambermaid in a harem. Around this period Europe was captivated with the East, and it was termed Orientalism, which manifested itself in furniture, fashion, decorative arts and works of art. Odalisque au Guepard meaning Odalisque with Cheetah is actually a self-portrait by Marval. We see before us Marval’s Odalisque, a naked young woman with elegant hairdo lying on a balustraded balcony between a flowered foreground and foliated background. A double layer of fabric protects her exposed flesh from the hard yellow and blue tile floor. She leans on one elbow, whilst her other arm reaches out to stroke the cheetah. She faces forward, but does not acknowledge our presence and although naked she makes no effort to cover herself and the impression we have of her is one of impertinence, and self determination.
Things got even better for Jacqueline in 1902 when she had some of her paintings exhibited alongside those of Flandrin, Albert Marquet and Henri Matisse in Berthe Weill’s small gallery on rue Massé.
At the Salon des Indépendants in 1903, Jacqueline Marval submitted her painting entitled Les Odalisques. It is one of her masterpieces and presently hangs in the Musée de Grenoble. This painting depicts five women: three seated nude, one dressed and reclining on her elbow, and one standing, clothed and holding a tray. Les odalisques follows in the art historical tradition of large-scale orientalized bathing scenes, with a strong focus on the nude body and the interaction between figures. One has to admire the spirit of Marval who had the courage to paint herself as a prostitute five times on this canvas !
Berthe Weill had been born in Paris on November 20, 1865. She was the fifth of seven children and the elder of the two daughters born to Solomon Weill and his wife Jenny (née Levy). Because she was a Jew, Berthe Weill for her to become an art dealer through the back door similar to how many Jews had to enter many other occupations. During the 1880’s she began working for Salvador Meyer, an antiquarian, whose premises were located on rue Lafitte. During the long period working for Meyer she was able to train her eye and to learn first-hand about a variety of objects ranging from bric-a-brac that was rarely suitable for the finest town houses or châteaux to genuine antiques. In December 1901, just after her 36th birthday, she opened a gallery, Galerie B. Weill, which was dedicated solely to modern art. Why not use her full name for the gallery? The reason was simple.
Most art dealers were men and Berthe knew that her gallery was likely to fare better if collectors did not know initially that it was owned and operated by a female! Weill was also particularly interested in promoting female artists who were living in Paris. She had an impressive list of artists who had made their way through her gallery and submitted work for her to sell, including Raoul Dufy, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Diego Rivera, Georges Braque, Kees van Dongen, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso and Jean Metzinger. However she never forgot the plight of female painters and gave the early exposure and sales of women painters such as Suzanne Valadon, Emilie Charmy and today’s artist, Jacqueline Marval.
There was, in 1905, a major event in twentieth century art, an exhibition at the Salon d’Autumne. It was an exhibition that opened in Paris, on October 15th, 1905, and which included paintings by Marval. It was said that the exhibition ‘shocked many who saw, and many more who did not’. It was at this exhibition that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles pointed to a quattrocento-like sculpture by created by Albert Marque in the middle of the gallery and exclaimed:
“…Donatello au milieu des fauves!…”
(Donatello among the wild beasts),
……..and the name fauves stuck. Fauve paintings are distinguished by a startling palette of saturated, unmixed colours and broad brushstrokes.
When Jacqueline Marval met Eugène Druet, little does she know how important this encounter will be in her career. Druet first owned the French Yacht Club, a small family café that he bought in 1893. The sculptor, Auguste Rodin, regularly frequented the café, and it was he who introduced Druet to art photography. Druet took many pictures of Rodin’s sculptures and soon acted as his official photographer. In 1903, on Rodin’s advice, Druet abandoned his café to open an art gallery at 114, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré which later moved to the Rue Royale in 1908. In 1909, Jacqueline Marval exhibited for the first time at Galerie Druet and during the following years, she would exhibit at the gallery over fifty times often alongside other artists such as Georges Rouault, Roger de la Fresnaye and Henri Matisse.
In 1912 the Galerie Druet staged a solo exhibition of forty-four of Jacqueline’s paintings and it was well received. The celebrated poet and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire, praised Jacqueline Marval writing in an article in the journal, Le Petit Bleu:
“…Mme. Marval has offered art-lovers an entirely different kind of treat. This artist has imagination, and a very personal talent. Abstraction is not her strong point, but she has a marvelous ability to reveal the poetic reality of her subjects. . . In her large canvas of odalisques, Mme. Marval has given the measure of her talent and has achieved a work of importance for modern painting. This strong and sensual work, freely painted and wholly personal in composition, line and coloring, deserves to survive…”
In 1913, Jacqueline Marval’s 1903 painting Odalisques au miroir was exhibited in the New York Armory Show, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art.
It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.
Many visitors and art critics were shocked by the Modern art on display with Kenyon Cox of Harper’s Weekly describing what he saw at the Armory Show:
“…it is not amusing, but appalling and disgusting. I was attributed saying that the human race was approaching madness. I never did, but if one tries to convince me that this is modern art and this is representative of our present, I will have to think it is…”
The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is said to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in Paris. This historical edifice, which is considered by many as one of the first Art Déco ones, was the first concrete building of the architects Auguste and Gustave Perret. It was built in 1913 by a group of artists, Henry Van de Velde, the Perret brothers, Antoine Bourdelle, and Maurice Denis.
Jacqueline Marval was put in charge of completing eight panels for the building that will be the decor of the Foyer de la Danse. Marval chose as her theme, Daphnis et Chloé, an early 20th century ballet my Ravel, based upon a second century Greek tale. The subject of the opera was the trials and ordeals suffered by two young shepherds, who were young lovers. However there was also a hidden meaning for these depictions being placed in the Foyer de la Danse as it was here that many older men would gaze lecherously at the young, sometimes impoverished, dancers as they rehearsed.
It was to remind them that the paintings were a celebration of love between two young people. Paul Jamot, commented on this, writing in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, First Semester, 1913:
“…since some elderly men who think money gives them rights and merits, come here as conquerors, those walls will let them know that nature only likes pairing youth with youth…”
Jacqueline’s reputation as a an artist grew year on year. During the 1920’s she and Flandrin made many visits to Biarritz and it was in this seaside resort that she found new inspiration for her paintings.
Her paintings included depictions of beaches, baigneuses and fisher folk and in a way they were recording that time when bathing in the sea had become a favoured pastime and that French seaside towns were proving ever more popular with the French population.
The swimming costumes she depicted provided us with and observation of the fashion of the time.
Jacqueline regularly exhibited her work at the various Paris Salons where she would attend and ensure she was well recognised.
She became well known as an artist and her flamboyance was often noted in the local press which covered the Salon exhibitions.
Often she would be asked to produce the posters, and illustrate the invitation cards and the catalogue covers for Parisian salons such as the Salon d’Automne.
Following a prolonged illness Jacqueline’s friend and French art critic René-Jean, took her to the L’Hôpital Bichât in Paris where she passed away on May 28th 1932, aged 65.
My featured artist today was one of the Pennsylvania Impressionists, an artistic movement of the first half of the 20th century that was centred in and around Bucks County, Pennsylvania, particularly the town of New Hope. Often the movement was referred to as the New Hope School or the Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting. Leading artists of the movement taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There was a difference between Pennsylvania Impressionism and Impressionism practiced in other parts of America as, with the former, the personification of their art was the thick brushwork and the way they almost had a dedicated concentration on landscape painting. Today’s artist was one of the great American painters of her time and although she has been tagged with the term, Impressionism, Fern Isabel Coppedge has of late been labelled as a follower of Colourism, which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art. Thus, her paintings are looked upon as part Impressionism part Colourism, which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art. Coppedge’s paintings offered up her bold and unorthodox use of bright vibrant colours similar to Fauvism, which is also characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork.
Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter, Fern Isabel Coppedge, a landscape artist, who was famed for her depiction of the villages and farms of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, often blanketed with snow, as well as her harbour scenes of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers.
Fern Isabel Kuns was born on July 18th 1883 in the small town of Cerro Gordo which lies about twelve miles east of the central Illinois city of Decatur. Her parents were John Leslie Kuns and Maria Anna Dilling. Fern was one of six children. She had four sisters, Margaret Effa, Dessie, Vada, and Maria and one brother, George Dilling. Sadly, the first-born of John and Maria’s family was a boy, Joseph, who died in 1873 aged ten.
Her father had a small farm which he had inherited from his father, but was constantly struggling to make ends meet, so much so that in 1886, when Fern was aged three, he had to sell the farm, at a loss, so as to feed the family and pay for their education. John and his family moved west to California in the hope of finding work but nought came of it, although Fern’s eldest sister Margaret, nine years Fern’s senior, said that life in California was the best year of her childhood. When potential opportunities did not work out for their father, they headed back east and arrived in Kansas. In 1889, the Kuns’ finally settled in McPherson, Kansas and occupied a house on the campus of McPherson College.
When Fern was thirteen years old, she went back west to Palo Alto in California where her sister Margaret Effa was studying at Leland Stanford University. Fern, still too young to leave the school system, enrolled at the Pasadena High school. During her stay in California she enjoyed the company of her elder sister, Margaret Effa, and was fascinated watching her painting in a watercolour class. This was what first instance which eventually made Fern fall in love with painting and drawing. Effa encouraged her sister’s newly found love of art and would take her to museums to study famous paintings.
An early insight of Fern’s early work can be gleaned by a comment she once made about her art and her unusual views of the use of colours. She said:
“…People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and reds and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes…”
In 1900, at the age of seventeen, Fern Kuns went back to Kansas and, upon her return to the Midwest, she studied at McPherson College and later the University of Kansas. Shortly after her return to Kansas, she met her future husband, Missouri-born, Robert William Coppedge, a high school science teacher, botanist, and amateur artist. On January 2nd, 1904, Fern Kuns and Robert Coppedge were married in her parents’ home in McPherson, and the ceremony was followed by a four-course wedding breakfast. Fern and her husband moved east to the Kansas state capital, Topeka. Robert continued with his teaching profession whilst Fern continued with her love of painting and four years later, when they moved to Illinois, she attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1908 to 1910.
From Chicago she moved to New York, where she enrolled at the Arts Student League. She studied with the artist, muralist and illustrator, Frank Vincent DuMond and the Impressionist painter, William Merritt Chase. In 1917, Fern spent time studying at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where one of her tutors was the Pennsylvania artist and art teacher, Daniel Garber and that year she had some of her artwork accepted into that year’s annual exhibition. In that summer she studied at the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock where winter painting specialist, John Fabian Carlson, was director. Carlson was one of the great interpreters of the wooded landscape and was a great influence on Fern Coppedge.
In 1917 Fern visited Pennsylvania for the first time. She immediately fell in love with its picturesque-wooded hills and the many old-fashioned Bucks County towns which reminded her a little of her home state, Kansas. She remained in Pennsylvania for over thirty years and went on to own homes in Philadelphia, and the Bucks County towns of Lumberville, where she purchased a home and art studio in 1920, which she named Boxwood, sometimes referred to as The Boxwood Studios.
In her painting, Lumberville in Winter, we see depicted a yellow building which is believed to be her first Boxwood studio which had once been a Quaker meeting house dating to the 1700s and is featured in several other works by the artist. The small two-storey building would feature in many more of her paintings. Living close to her in the small village of Cuttalossa was her former tutor, Daniel Garber.
There is an interesting story about Fern Coppedge’s painting entitled October. In May, 2011, a man with a small but pleasant oil painting entitled October, fresh from a New Jersey estate, walked up to the owner of a hot dog stand in North Carolina, Alison Bledsoe. The hot dog lady, looked at the dirty landscape of a bridge, some yellow leafed trees, and some brightly coloured houses. She was not quite sure if the interesting painting was worth buying, but as it was not expensive she purchased it. Seven months later, on December 4, 2011, Les and Sue Fox of West Highland Art Auction Brokers and authors of The Art Hunters’ Handbook, in cooperation with Alasdair Nichol of Freeman’s Auctioneers, sold the professionally cleaned New Hope, Pennsylvania bridge scene by Fern Isabel Coppedge for $29,800 at auction.
Nine years later, in 1929, Fern Coppedge moved seven miles down-river to the small town of New Hope. It was a town located along the route of the Old York Road, the former main highway between Philadelphia and New York City. At the time when George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776, it was known as Coryell’s Ferry, after the owner of the ferry business, and got its current name after a fire destroyed several mills in 1790. It was said that once the mills were rebuilt, there was a “new hope” for this small town on the Delaware river. The town would later be joined by a bridge to Lambertville, on the New Jersey side. Artist William Langston Lathrop and his family moved to New Hope in 1898 and founded an art school and he is now considered the father of The New Hope School
Fern Coppedge lived on North Main Street in the centre of New Hope, in an early American style stone house and studio which she had built and was designed by architect Henry T. MacNeill in 1929. This too was named Boxwood ! Over the years Fern Coppedge painted a number of pictures of her Boxwood home, at which she held many exhibitions of her work. In 1907 Daniel Garber, who had once tutored Fern at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1900’s, joined the early group of American Impressionists who would evolve into The New Hope School of Pennsylvania Impressionists. Fern became a member of the group and at the time she was the only female member of the New Hope School. Members of the New Hope School lived and painted in a number of Bucks County towns near New Hope, including Lumberville and Carversville. But the “New Hope School” name stuck and that is what these talented artists who followed in the footsteps of the French Impressionists are now called.
………………………to be continued.
Most of the information for this blog came from the website Pennsylvania through the eyes of Fern I Coppedge.
Last Thursday I embarked on my monthly pilgrimage to London to visit a couple of art galleries and take a look at two new art exhibitions and it was during those visits that I found a few paintings which I will include in my forthcoming blogs. Two of my featured paintings today were not in a specific exhibition but were in the permanent collection of The Courtauld Gallery, which is a veritable gem when it comes to medium sized galleries and one you should put on your “to visit” list the next time you are in the capital. Today I am highlighting some works by the Fauvist Kees van Dongen, which feature his wife and daughter.
Cornelis Theodorus Marie van Dongen, better known as Kees van Dongen, was born in January 1877 at Delfshaven, which is now a suburb of Rotterdam. At the end of 1892, he enrolled as a student on a five-year course at the Akademie voor Beeldende Kunsten (Academy of Visual Arts) in Rotterdam, now known as the Willem de Kooning Academy, named in memory of the famous Dutch artist Willem de Kooning. As a student he also needed to earn some money and so he carried out some illustrative work for the local newspaper, Rotterdamsche Nieuwsblad. His own artistic work in these early days was greatly influenced by the Dutch artist, Rembrandt and many of his works displayed the dark tones of the great Dutch master.
It was whilst he was at this Academy that he became very friendly with another art student, Juliana Augusta “Guus” Preitinger. Guus had been born in Cologne but early in her life the whole family had relocated to Rotterdam and eventually they all became Dutch citizens. She revealed a great aptitude for drawing in her childhood years and her family supported and encouraged this artistic talent and had her enrol at the Academy. On completion of their studies, Kees and Guus decided to move from The Netherlands and seek their fortune in the European capital of art, Paris. Guus went off to Paris first in search of employment and Kees followed in 1899. Shortly after arriving in Paris van Dongen met Félix Fénéon, the art critic and Parisian anarchist who had become a great supporter of a new group of French artists lead by Georges Seurat, whom he had christened, Neo-Impressionists. Van Dongen and Fénénon became great and long lasting friends.
Between 1900 and late 1903, van Dongen did very little painting, probably due to financial difficulties. Through the good offices of Théophile Steinlen, a Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker, who worked for the satirical papers of the day, L’Assiette au beurre, Le Rire, L’Indiscret and Le Frou-Frou , he managed to get some work for van Dongen on these periodicals and with the money van Dongen earned as an illustrator he managed to set up house with Guus Preitinger.
Van Dongen’s began to take an interest in the social and political affairs of Paris. He especially took a great interest in the environment and lifestyle of the city’s prostitutes and courtesans. He spent a lot of his time producing illustrations for political and social publications especially the journal L’Assiette au beurre, which was the most remarkable and resilient of cartoon journals of social protest in France during the first decade of the twentieth century. It was a journal which looked at things such as the corruption of politicians and the country’s violence against the poor and the downtrodden. Van Dongen illustrated an entire issue of L’Assiette au beurre (dated 26 October 1901) which was devoted to the subject of prostitution from the perspective of the conditions of the prostitutes and the tone of the edition indicated their belief that prostitution in contemporary Paris was a phenomenon symptomatic of the degeneration of the bourgeoisie.
In June 1901, Kees van Dongen and Guus Preitinger married. Their first child, a son, was born that December but died when only two days old. In 1904, Kees van Dongen was sponsored by Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce, to exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants and in that same year he had a major breakthrough with his art when he was granted gallery space at Ambroise Vollard’s establishment. Vollard, one of the major art dealers in Paris, was a champion of avant-garde art and allowed van Dongen to show almost a hundred of his works, most of which were his early works depicting scenes from Holland, the Normandy coast and Paris. The following year, van Dongen exhibited two of his works at the Salon des Indépendants, and at the infamous 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition. The Salon d’Automne was founded two years earlier by a group of artists and poets that included Renoir, Eugène Carrière, Georges Rouault and Édouard Vuillard, under the leadership of the Belgian architect, Frantz Jourdain. They set up their Salon in direct competition to the conservatism of the official Paris Salon and the Salon des Independents and welcomed any artist who wished to join. The decision on what would be allowed into their exhibition was, like the Paris Salon, to be decided by their own jury, which was selected by drawing straws from the new group’s membership, and it was their intention to give the decorative arts the same respect accorded the fine arts. Their 1905 exhibition, which included the two works by van Dongen, was probably their best known for it was at this show that one of the visitors was the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who on entering a room set aside for paintings by Matisse, Vlaminck, Albert Marquet, André Derrain and van Dongen, he commented on the “violence” of their works and their uninhibited use of pure non-naturalistic colours. Seeing a traditional sculpture uncomfortably situated in this room amidst these hotly coloured paintings, Louis Vauxcelles joked to Matisse that it was like “a Donatello among the fauves [wild beasts]”. This group of painters was from that day on known as the Fauves and Fauvism as such was born.
In April 1905 Kees van Dongen and his wife Guus had a daughter whom they named Augusta but would always be known as Dolly. The family moved to the Montmatre district which was a favourite haunt of the artistic community. They moved into an apartment in the somewhat dark and squalid building on the heights of Montmatre, nicknamed Le Bateau Lavoir. Pablo Picasso and his companion Fernande Olivier had a studio next to theirs and the two artists became close friends. Fernande Olivier referred to the strong ties between the two artists and their respective entourages in her memoirs Picasso and His Friends and In Love with Picasso. In the latter she recalled how Picasso loved Kees and Guus’ daughter Dolly. She wrote:
“…Pablo loved little Gusie and played with her without getting bored, she could get him do whatever she wanted. I didn‘t know at the time that he could take so much pleasure in being with children. We would have liked to have a child, but as this wish was never realized, we had to be content with the little Van Dongen…”
It was whilst living here that Picasso painted his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Many other artists moved into the apartment block and it soon became a meeting place for all the contemporary artists of the time. Although the paintings by van Dongen continued to show the power and passion of Fauvism, by 1907 most of the other Fauvists had moved on and had begun to explore new styles. Van Dongen produced a series of portraits of Picasso’s “lover” Fernande in a wide range of styles, and she established herself as his preferred model, alongside his wife Guus. His painting at this time was turning increasingly to women, and the often erotic depictions were out of step with the time, and would often provoke a somewhat prudish reaction
In 1907 van Dongen had met the German Expressionist Max Pechstein who was visiting the French capital. Pechstein was one of the most prominent artists of German Expressionism. He was hailed by some of his contemporaries as the leading member of the Dresden-based Die Brücke group. Their meeting led in 1908 to Van Dongen being invited to exhibit alongside the group. His works went on to influence a number of its members. In the winter of 1910-1911 van Dongen visited Spain and Morocco. This was his first time he had been able to observe, first-hand, Moorish architecture, with its palaces and the mosques with their fascinating minarets, the contrast of dark passages and dazzling white walls baked by a scorching sun. What fascinated Van Dongen was the look of the Andalusian people, the movement of the bodies of the flamenco dancers as they danced to the wild rhythms of their tambourines and the colours of the flower-embroidered Manila shawls. After his travels, an exhibition of his works was held at the Galerie Bernheim Jeune in June 1911 under the title Hollande, Paris, Espagne, Maroc and this further established the reputation of the works which were influenced by his travels through the southern lands.
It was around this time van Dongen began to develop a reputation as a socialite. He often hosted masquerade parties at his new home, which was an apartment in Montparnasse. His lifestyle and his art was the talk of the Paris fashionista. His paintings now often depicted licentious nudes and other such erotic subjects, which often caused uproar among critics and admirers alike. One such painting was a nude portrait of his wife Guus which he completed in 1913 and was entitled Tableau (also known as The Beggar of Love or Nude with Manila Shawl). The figure crouching on the floor to the right is of Kees who is admiring and bowing before the beauty of his wife. He exhibited the work at the 1913 Salon d’Automne and the work was considered so scandalous and immoral that the police removed it from the gallery. Van Dongen condemned its removal saying:
“…For all those who look with their ears, here is a completely naked woman. You are prudish, but I tell you that our sexes are organs that are as amusing as brains, and if the sex was found in the face, in place of the nose (which could have happened), where would prudishness be then? Shamelessness is really a virtue, like the lack of respect for many respectable things…”
In 1914, Guus took her daughter Dolly to Rotterdam for the summer to see their families. However the outbreak of World War I prevented them from returning to Kees in Paris until 1918. In 1917, Kees van Dongen, whilst living alone in Paris, started a relationship with a married socialite, the fashion director Léa Alvin also known as Jasmy Jacob. She proved to be the conduit between van Dongen and the upper classes and through her introductions, came numerous portraiture commissions. When Guus and Dolly returned to Paris it was not long before Guus heard rumours about her husband’s infidelity. This proved to be the final straw in the break-up of their marriage and they eventually divorced in 1921. Guus Preitinger died in 1946.
In 1926 he was awarded the Legion of Honour and the following year the Order of the Crown of Belgium. In 1929 van Dongen became a French citizen. He and his art, were the toast of French society. He cut an ostentatious and colourful figure in Paris. His lifestyle was full of controversy and his extravagant nightly studio parties were attended by film stars, masqued politicians and artists. He spent most of his time completing portraiture commissions. He was the typical society artist who lived a bohemian lifestyle and who brought added colour and excitement to the Parisian upper classes. He was only too well aware how to please his female sitters, saying:
“…The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished……….Painting is the most beautiful of lies…”
His success as a society portraitist enhanced his reputation as an artist with the French bourgeoisie, especially the society women, and his numerous commissions allowed him to live a carefree and affluent lifestyle.
In 1938 he met Marie-Claire Huguen, who two years later bore him a son, Jean Marie. At that time van Dongen was 63 years old !! The couple finally married in 1953, and this new second family gave van Dongen new purpose, a new life. He carried on working on his portraiture work which was much in demand and he also continued with his illustrative work for books by the likes of Voltaire, Proust and Kipling. The latter years of his life was spent with his family in Monaco where he died at home in 1968 at the age of 91.
One of the paintings by Kees van Dongen, which I saw at London’s Courtauld Gallery was entitled Torso, sometimes known as The Idol, which he completed in 1905 and was one of two portraits of his wife, Guus Preitinger, which he exhibited at that year’s Salon d’Automne. It is a large and somewhat “in your face” painting. There is an overt sexuality about this work. It is a depiction of complete sexual abandonment. Guus lies back with her hands behind her head. Her arms form two triangles of space either side of her head. The curvature of her arms mirrors the curvature of her hips in the lower half of the work. Prominently depicted in the very centre of the painting are her nipples. It is if the artist wants them to have pride of place. Van Dongen has used various shades of red and pink to depict the flushed cheeks of her face. Could it be she was embarrassed by the artist, her husband’s, gaze as he painted her image? Her pale body is set off dramatically against the heavy black and brown lines which he has used to outline her torso and her breasts. The paleness contrasts with the dark background. I found it a rather disturbing painting. It did not have the beauty of many depictions of the female nude I have seen before. There was something very rough, almost unpleasant about the full-frontal depiction and in some ways this diminished the sense of eroticism. In my opinion, the female body in this painting has not been put on a pedestal for us to adore its beauty. That is just my opinion and I am sure many of you will beg to differ. However, when I stood in front of this work, it had the same affect on me as when I stood before many of Egon Schiele’s nude or semi nude portraits.
One of Kees van Dongen’s favourite models for his paintings was his daughter Dolly and she appears in many of his portraits. In the one at the Courtauld Gallery she is probably just seven years old. This a portrait of a child, his young daughter but by the way she is given an open pose, and the way he has given her red cheeks, painted lips and large eyes, there is something of an adult feel to the painting.
I came across a couple of fascinating videos on the internet, one of which was a sub-titled interview with van Dongen’s daughter Dolly, aged 82, made in 1987 in which she talks about her father and his paintings. I am sure you will find it interesting.