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Les Amies, 1925, Private Collection

Kees van Dongen   (1877 - 1968)


Image and catalogue note from Sotheby’s:   “I passionately love the life of my own time, so animated, so frenzied. […] Yes, I love things that shine, precious stones that sparkle, fabric that shimmers, beautiful women that inspire carnal desire… and painting gives me complete possession of all of that, for what I paint is often the obsessive realisation of a dream or a fixation.” Van Dongen’s words seem to directly echo the present painting, Les Amies, emblematic of the works produced by the painter in the 1920s, a decade qualified as the “Cocktail Epoch” by commentators of the period.

At the time when this work was painted, Van Dongen was living with his companion Jasmy Jacob, who directed the fashion house Jenny, in a splendid private mansion situated rue Juliette-Lambe where the couple settled in the summer of 1922. The house became one of the most fashionable places to be in Paris and Van Dongen organised notorious parties and openings where he exhibited the many portraits he painted at this time. Coulourful guests mingled there, fashionable women in evenings gowns rubbed shoulders with cabaret singers, actresses, dancers and politicians. Van Dongen particularly liked to depict charming women, such as those described by Victor Margueritte in his novel La Garçonne, published in 1922, and he became a champion of sensual painting: “One must want to touch the picture, it must be a pleasure for all the senses. The picture must be something exciting and exalt life.”… For more see link below.

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An ode to the light-hearted and hedonistic atmosphere of Paris in this era, Les Amies embodies the artist’s feminine ideal. Already, a few years earlier, critics praised Van Dongen’s talent in depicting women: “The women he paints […] are deeply moving with their disturbing charm, the feline suppleness of their limbs, the provocative beauty of their forms and the mystery of their gaze. Van Dongen’s art irresistibly attracts us because it is charged with passion and ardent sensuality. The voluptuous call of certain figures make us shake to the depths of our being.” (in Montparnasse, issue of June 20th 1914).

The painter’s fascination with the female body is evident in this painting. In fact, critics of the period endowed him with the nickname “psychologist of the body” by critics of the time. Green carnations, characteristic of the artist’s technique, contrast with the sparkle of necklaces, pink breasts and lips, sculpting the bodies of two young women, whilst preserving their bewitching mystery. For Louis Chaumeil, the author of Van Dongen. L'homme et l'artiste - La vie et l'œuvre (1967), Van Dongen’s personality was “dominated by a passion for life and a passion for painting under the sensual impulse of instinct”. This description fully captures the artist’s practice, as he aspired towards “an ardent life with women for divinity”.  (via: Sotheby’s)

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