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Wild self portrait
Kees van Dongen painted this self-portrait in his fauvian, ’wild’ period; that is, somewhere between 1905 and 1910. He probably painted it in the studio next to the Folies Bergère which he started using in 1908. Thanks to the generator in the variety theatre, Van Donen had electric light in his studio. Just how remarkable that was is shown by the letters and news reports by people who visited him at the time. It is quite possible that Van Dongen made use of red light when painting his self portrait and thus, in a humorous way, depicted himself in the way that critics described him at the time: that he was a painter of brothels, depravity and raised skirts. But Van Dongen was also a cultivated and well-read man, with an enormous interest in foreign cultures and other philosophies. For him, the various tints of red and the striking yellow meant more than just paid love and fallen women.
A woman as a mountain
This painting by Kees van Dongen hung at the Salon des Indépendants of 1911 with the cubists in the room of honour. The question is: why? The painting has nothing cubist about it. Did the cubists want to contrast their analytic way of working that was rooted in French tradition with the archaic, voluptuous paintings of the Dutchman? Or did the cubists see that Van Dongen, just like them, was honouring Cézanne? The shadow of the woman on the pillows is, in fact, exactly the same shape as the Mont St. Victoire which Cézanne painted frequently. The critics were enthusiastic about Van Dongen’s painting. They discussed the semi-nude woman on her richly decorated divan as a metaphor for the seduction of painting itself.
The colourful chimera
Van Dongen produced this painting in 1895, when he was 18 years old, and left it behind in his parental home in Delfshaven when he moved to Paris. During a long stay in the Netherlands in 1907, he repainted the background. Then he took the canvas back with him to Paris and from then on always gave it a prominent place in his studio. What did The colourful chimera mean to him? A chimera is a mythological beast with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a snake. In biology, chimera means the mixing of two breeds. Van Dongen’s chimera is a mixture of a horse and a cow. The horse is a noble and intelligent animal that occurs in all cultures and represents an elementary power and beauty. Van Donger, however, gave this horse the hide of a typical Dutch meadow creature, with a sluggish gaze, a lowing voice and a bony movement. Did Van Dongen consider this painting something of a self portrait? As an illustration of a down-to-earth Dutchman who, at the same time, felt the rearing ambition of a world citizen?
Antistrot existed from 1996 to 2009. An American reporter called Antistrot a ‘visual band’, not just because this group of visual artists went to work as a rock punk band, but also because the paintings, projects and performances emerged from and were linked to the popular culture of the mass media. The hard core of Antistrot came from the illustration department at the Rotterdam Willem de Kooning Academy. They were united in their aversion to the old-fashioned regime that ruled the department. The group started producing magazines that were handed out on the street. Antistrot has made contacts with like-minded artists in Russia, America and Japan and has participated in festivals and manifestations there. A lot of pleasure and a lot of beer, according to the video reports on myspace. The group has now fallen apart into: 1. 3RDWARD = David Elshout, Marco Kruyt, Johan Kleinjan 2. Studio Knakworst = Charlie Dronkers, Bruno Ferro Xavier Da Silva, Michiel Walrave, Silas Schletterer, Johan Kleinjan. Paul Borchers now lives and works in New Zealand.
La Commode is dominated by the colours red, yellow and blue and you can also describe the painting as a composition of geometric areas of colour. Did Van Dongen perhaps have something to do with Piet Mondriaan? Yes and no. When Van Dongen produced this painting, Mondriaan lived just round the corner from him in Paris. Mondriaan came to dance in his studio and both artists were interested in Eastern philosophy and religion. In Mondriaan’s work, this is clearly seen in the Evolution triptych from 1911; both the illustration and the colour are symbolic. In La Commode, Van Dongen used the three primary colours in the same way. He viewed red as the colour of material life, of love and of passion; blue as the colour of spirituality, divinity and fidelity. Yellow could represent both light and hope or treachery and envy. La Commode seems to relate to the ups and downs of love; to the approaching end of his relationship with Augusta Preitinger and the start of a new (love) life behind the yellow door.
À la Galette
The Salon des Indépendants was organised every spring in Paris. It was a major exhibition of contemporary art, where artists could exhibit their latest ideas. At the Salon des Indépendants in 1906, Van Dongen exhibited a very large painting with the title: À la Galette. The canvas drew quite a bit of criticism. The critics felt that Van Dongen had debased art by choosing the ‘dregs’ as subject and to paint dancing girls as ‘monsters of ugliness’. What’s more, he didn’t observe the rules of painting. Van Dongen was a ‘Dutchman’ who intentionally flew in the face of good taste, according to the French critics. Thanks to a photograph shown with one of these reviews, we know that the painting Bregje is discussing is part of that large canvas from 1906.
The Rutte government plans to cut spending in the art sector by 200 million euro. The sector has voiced its protest in a public debate and a national protest action is being prepared. During the debate on 26 October 2010 in the Lower Chamber about the government statement, Rutte was resolute about sticking to his intentions.
A thorough clean out before a new start. That is the philosophy of the hard core of Antistrot. That’s why, in episode 10 of Boijmans TV, the remaining artists of this Rotterdam art collective attack their organ - a tender symbol for a fast and magnificent past - with axe, machete and chain saw. Security guard Arie, looking for his colleague Mandy, doesn’t understand this urge for destruction. Such a performance may be art, but it doesn’t attract as many people as the old paintings by Kees van Dongen. But, as Bregje tells a group of art-loving ladies she is guiding through the retrospective of this Frenchman from Delfshaven, even Kees van Dongen sometimes cut a painting into pieces. His philosophy? Six paintings earn more than one painting. And where is Mandy? When she finally appears behind the reception desk - far too late! - Arie has long returned to his post. Then, among all those thousands of people buying tickets for ‘The large eyes of Kees van Dongen’, Mandy meets another man who touches her heart. It is Marco, Jordi’s father. Undoubtedly he’ll be looking at art a lot more in the future.
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