Kees Van Dongen, A la recherche du temps perdu

Kees Van Dongen in his studio 6 rue Saulnier, Paris, ca. 1910

Kees Van Dongen (1877 – 1968) was a Dutch-French painter known for his radical use of form and color. He exhibited in Paris, and participated in the controversial 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition along with Henri Matisse, André Derain, Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy. The bright colours of this group of artists led to them being called Fauves (‘Wild Beasts’) by art critic Louis Vauxcelles. Van Dongen was also briefly a member of the German Expressionist group Die Brücke.

He fell in with the Marquise Luisa Casati and her friend Jasmy Jacob, who introduced him to the so-called beau monde of Paris. The lush colors of his Fauvist style are what earned him a solid reputation with the French bourgeoisie and upper class, where he was in demand for his portraits. He was one of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ leading figures on the trendy Paris scene. He referred to the scene as the “cocktail period”, and he devoted himself exclusively to the new elite; the literary men and women and stars of stage and screen for whom he also organised sumptuous parties and costume balls on many occasions.

In addition to selling his paintings, Van Dongen also gained an income by selling satirical sketches to the newspaper Revue Blanche (which during its early years was associated with Marcel Proust) and journal L’Assiette au beurre.

As his fame began to wane in his later years, he turned to illustration and contributed to several publications: Les Lépreuses(1946) by Henry de Montherlant, La Princesse de Babylone(1948) by Voltaire, La Révolte des anges(1951) by Anatole France and Le livre des mille et une nuits(1955) by Dr Mardrus, and, of course, A la recherche du temps perdu (1947).

In 1947, the publisher Gallimard released a luxury edition of the novel A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust, bound by Paul Bonet and illustrated with 77 reproductions of aquarelles by the fauvist, Kees Van Dongen, made especially for this publication. Van Dongen’s aquarelles depict balls, seaside resorts, salons, large diners, gatherings of high society in public parks and on the avenues, and many splendid costumes. Despite the international fame of its two main contributors, this edition has remained largely unknown to literary scholars and art historians (Verlick). Several of the original aquarelle paintings were gifted by the artist to the Proust family and have recently come on the market.

“The illustrations surpass the mere transposition of the plot into images; Van Dongen also succeeded in visualizing a variety of abstract ideas, such as emotions of the narrator, descriptions of musical compositions, long-forgotten memories, and theories on the nature and use of literature.”

– Charlotte Vrielink


A La Recherche du Temps Perdu [In Search of Lost Time]

PROUST, Marcel (1871-1922); [Kees VAN DONGEN (1877-1968), illustrates]

Published by Gallimard, Paris (1947)

Kees Van Dongen: The Graphic Work

Dongen, Kees Van,Juffermans, Jan

Published by Lund Humphries Pub Ltd (2003)

ISBN 10: 085331876X ISBN 13: 9780853318767

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