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23.2.09

Van Dongen in Montreal


Who knew that all we have to do is cross the border into Canada's Quebec province and we'd be in France, almost? It's been a long time since I was last here and the one thing that hasn't changed is, it feels a world away and very cold in February! Especially standing in the ever-present line at Schwartz's Deli...but well worth the wait.

My trip across the border luckily coincided with the exhibit Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. It brings together some 200 works, including over a hundred paintings, drawings, prints, sketch books, examples of his prolific graphic work, and for the first time a dozen Fauvist ceramics.

Van Dongen, a Dutch born-painter, studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam, later moved to Paris, and became part of Les Fauves (The Wild Beasts), the group led by Matisse and André Derain known for their use of strong, bright colors. Van Dongen gained a reputation for his erotic, flamboyant portraits of high and low society and celebrated personalities of the Roaring Twenties. His themes were much different from the landscape Fauvists such as Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque, and one of my favorites, Maurice de Vlaminck.
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.
Van Dongen was truly an artist of his time -- the glitz, lavish parties -- associating with Picasso and Matisse (apparently he and Matisse were not on friendly terms) and a free flow of wealth that as we know has its limit. He was the consummate entertainer and crowd-pleaser -- that is no criticism. He was quite passionate and dedicated to his craft, which is what makes this rare exhibit so good, the passion, the flair -- the parties.

There is a blunt directness to Van Dogen's nudes which reminded me of Philip Pearlstein or Lucian Freud's work. I wish I had more images to share, however much of the artwork is in private collections and photographs were not permitted. One of my favorite pieces in the show is not flashy at all, but of an older seated woman, with a small dog in her lap, a simple light blue house dress with a blue patterned apron titled The Concierge At The Villa Said. It's Van Dogen at his simplest, most restrained and most memorable.

The exhibit runs through April 19th, and there are more images on my Flickr site.

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