van dongen’s earlier work was exciting; what apollonaire called a blend of ‘opium, ambergris, and eroticism’, but i am mostly interested in the effect of notoriety on such artists; the flame from the struggle smothered by success.
sitting at the café; large, cheap but elaborately framed prints adorning the walls, i’d just spent a few hours at the museum and was famished. Plat du jour s’il vous plait.
en route i passed a sidewalk artist, one of many, who was packing out his work. the contrasts of the work and the contrasts of the colours reminded me of kees van dongen. he was a handsome young man, brilliant eyes set in a gaunt face, too gaunt for his age; a hungry face. they were large canvasses, some abstract, some portraits, some both. he never spoke but nodded courteously and carried on. thoroughly engaged, i only left when the neighbouring seller tried to persuade me with a heavy accent into a pair of fake branded sneakers.
the newspaper had a profile article in one of it’s regular columns about a lawyer who exchanges goods with his clients, his advice to a nursery got him 1000 amaryllis flower bulbs.
kees van dongen like many other poor artists, turned his talent to other things to make a living. artists were known to exchange work for food at sympathetic restaurants or bars. i looked up at those framed copies again, i look at the framed mirror which i somehow prefer since it at least serves a purpose; enlarging the space and making it seem busier simultaneously, it’s a common bistro trick but it works.
as van dongen’s earlier bohemian lifestyle steadily progressed into popularity with the fashionable society sector, earning him lucrative commissions for pre-ww2 it-list portraits, his work subsequently started suffering a certain commercial politeness;
‘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’.