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Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen – his real name – began his career in his home country, the Netherlands around 1895 and continued in Paris in Montmartre and Montparnasse.
Following his classical painting studies in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam which led him to visit the popular area of the port where he painted scenes of street life, sailors and prostitutes, Kees Van Dongen then exhibited at the Independents Salon in 1904. He met Matisse and Vlaminck and joined the fauve and pure colour group.
In the wake of the first world war, he moved near the Boulogne forest and started to rub shoulders in high society circles. He excelled in the portraits that gave rise to his reputation and wealth. Even if he sometimes took the easy route, Van Dongen remains no less a painter who cultivated his singularity throughout his entire life.
Although he was the official painter of a certain upscale milieu, he knew how to upset the classic portrait codes: women of the world, actors, and important financiers are saturated in colour and striking modernity.
He died at 91, in Monaco, on May 21, 1968, as if to snub the protest movement that surged on France, crowned by his status as a both mundane and iconoclast painter.