Kees Van Dongen: From Fauvism to Les Années folles


To those who wish to visit the Kees Van Dongen exhibition

Please make a timed entry reservation from the museum website.

The museum is expected to get crowded during the last few days of the exhibition, which may make it difficult to secure a timed entry reservation. We recommend visiting as early as possible.

General Information

July 9 – September 25, 2022
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Admittance until 5:30 p.m.)
*Open until 8 p.m. (admittance until 7:30 p.m.) on August 5 and September 2
Wednesdays and August 12 – 17
Adults: ¥1,000
Visitors aged 65 or over with valid documentation: ¥900
Students (College): ¥700
Students (Middle and high school): ¥500
Admission is free for children in elementary school or younger. 
Admission is free for disability passbook holders and up to one accompanying adult.
Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art, NHK, NHK Promotions Inc.
Embassy of France in Japan/Institut français du Japon, Minato City Board of Education

Exhibition overview

The artist Kees Van Dongen (1877–1968) was born and raised in the Netherlands and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam. At the age of 20, he spent a few months living in Paris before returning to Rotterdam but moved to Paris for good just two years later, settling in Montmartre and establishing his own studio. Even as a young artist in the Netherlands, Van Dongen’s paintings had been characterized by bold brushstrokes, a style that led him to an early interest in Neo-Impressionism. He later came to the forefront of the Fauvist movement, painting with vivid, saturated, and highly expressive colors. Van Dongen’s name soon became synonymous with the grace and sensuality of the human body—especially the female form, which he depicted in a resplendent palette that was also evocative of the artist’s internal feelings.

This exhibition examines how an extraordinary artist came into his own as a Fauvist painter. Several facets of his career are highlighted, from his studies of color and form in the years leading up to World War I to his favorite subject—the human body. Also covered is his work during the Roaring Twenties, which were known in France as the Années Folles, or “crazy years.”

During the 1920s, Van Dongen began mingling with members of high society, where he was in demand as a portraitist. His portraiture was typified by slim, elongated, graceful figures depicted with a refined palette. This style earned Van Dongen high praise among the French bourgeoisie.

This exhibition—the first Van Dongen exhibition to open at a Japanese museum in 44 years—is divided into three sections: From Neo-Impressionism to Fauvism, After Fauvism, and the Années Folles. Through a variety of exceptional works gathered from around Japan and the world, the exhibition highlights the artist’s talent for drawing human figures and his sensual depictions of the human body, both evident throughout his career. It also explores how the various colors and forms that defined each period of his career came together in beautiful harmony.

Exhibition Highlights

1.Rich, expressive works from the artist’s Neo-Impressionist and Fauvist periods

The exhibition introduces the rapid evolution of Van Dongen’s artistic career through works from the early 20th century that reveal the influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, oil paintings with Neo-Impressionistic brushstrokes and enchanting depictions of light, and Fauvist paintings with intense, strongly contrasting palettes.

2.Elegant women, sophisticated portraits, and distinctive human figures

Van Dongen’s portraiture is central to the allure of his art. This exhibition includes many stunning examples, such as renowned portraits of fashionable, modern women, as well as early improvisational watercolors and charming portraits that apply a fluid brush to depict locals at travel and resort destinations.

3.Outstanding works of graphic art brimming with humor, thanks to a light touch and bright palette

In addition to a selection of prints and posters of unrivaled sophistication, some of which are displayed as projections, the exhibition also includes prints from Deauville, a book of Van Dongen illustrations with text by fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879–1944).

I. From Neo-Impressionism to Fauvism

In the years following Van Dongen’s move to Paris in October 1899, he made a name for himself by selling illustrations to satirical magazines and newspapers. The social criticism in these works was often inspired by the streets of Paris and its impoverished citizens.

Painting eventually became central to Van Dongen’s artistic production, and his work from around 1903 reveals a clear interest in Neo-Impressionism. It demonstrates a deep understanding of divisionism (a technique in which the artist applies individual brushstrokes of unblended colors), an expansion of his palette to a series of base colors that heralded his later Fauvist work, and a tendency to make liberal interpretations of restrained motifs. It was this boldness that caught the attention of critics when he participated in the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne in 1905. Affronted by the audacity of Van Dongen and the other young painters who exhibited at these exhibitions, one critic disparaged the artists as fauves, or “wild beasts,” giving a name to the movement: Fauvism.

Unlike many of his Fauvist contemporaries, Van Dongen did not abandon the use of vivid colors after 1905, instead emphasizing striking contrasts between various hues. He left divisionism behind in favor of large blocks of color and dedicated himself to painting portraits and nudes with female models. During this period, he also painted his wife Guus and daughter Dolly with particular affection.

II. After Fauvism

Bolstered by his success at the Paris salons, Van Dongen made a name for himself across France in the years leading up to World War I. As his fame expanded even beyond the country’s borders, he was able to move into larger apartments in 1909 and 1912 and became friendly with the Tout-Paris, members of the Parisian elite.

More than ever, his production during this period was focused on women. Van Dongen frequently painted his family and friends and those who attended the evening social gatherings that he frequented, as well as unknown models from among the cultured bourgeoisie. He emphasized the modern, liberated qualities of these women, presenting them as more than just victims of society. Rouged faces and feminine bodies—whether in fashionable dress or in the nude—occupy the center of his compositions, illuminated by bright electric lights. The theme continues in the art that Van Dongen created during his travels around Spain and North Africa between 1910 and 1913. Then, too, he was dedicated to the female subject, painting Mediterranean women dressed in distinctive outfits and in various landscapes. Parisian scenes, as well as its gardens and forests, also show up as recurring motifs, testifying to Van Dongen’s affection for the French capital, his chosen home.

III. The Années Folles

After World War I, France was caught up in a wave of euphoria and freedom. An exciting era of culture and festivity prevailed in Paris, especially in the Montparnasse neighborhood. Van Dongen’s fame reached its zenith during this period, which is known in France as the Années Folles, or “crazy years,” but which came to a close when the Great Depression hit the United States in 1929 and then Europe in 1931. During the 1920s, the bulk of the artist’s work consisted of portraits of the new Parisian elite and scenes of the city and its environs, as well as retreats favored by the upper classes, such as Deauville and Cannes.

Van Dongen visited Venice in 1921 and brought home a series of works that focused on the city’s iconic architecture, as well as images of the squares and cafés frequented by elegant socialites.

He also received a number of commissions during this period. He completed illustrations for Les plus beaux contes de Kipling (The most beautiful tales of Kipling), a 1920 short story collection for which he allowed his imagination to explore enticing Asian landscapes, and the Deauville suite in 1930, which depicted banquets, cafés, horse races, and bathers enjoying the beaches of Normandy.

Despite the diversity of Van Dongen’s motifs, the presence of women—incorporated into landscapes and occupying living spaces and festive scenes—is a constant. He returned to this theme more than any other, painting his subjects the way he saw them: graceful and slender, with poses, clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles that embodied a modern, liberated understanding of femininity. Van Dongen’s strong belief in the honesty of what he portrayed belies the fictional nature of these works.

Related events

Online Commemorative Lecture
Kees Van Dongen: From Fauvism to Les Années folles

Video availability
2 p.m., August 26, to 2 p.m., August 29
About 50 minutes
Maïthé Vallès-Bled (exhibition curator, former director of Musée Paul Valéry (France), and certified chief cultural heritage curator)
  • The lecture will be given in French.
  • Japanese subtitles will be provided by Akiko Utsunomiya.
  • This lecture may not be recorded in any way, including by video or audio recording or screen shots. Unauthorized use or reproduction of the lecture is strictly prohibited.
Kees Van Dongen: From Fauvism to Les Années folles

Curator Slideshow Lecture: Focal Points of the Exhibition

August 6 and August 26

3 – 3:30 pm
Limited to the first 50 visitors
No reservation required
No additional charge (however, a ticket to the exhibition is required)

Location: Fifth Floor Hall, Panasonic Tokyo Shiodome Building

  • Admission to the exhibition requires a timed entry ticket
  • Event details are subject to change. Check the museum website for up-to-date information.
  • Please note that this Lecture will be conducted in Japanese.