Kees van Dongen (1877-1968, Dutch-French) was a Fauvist painter who was known for his sensuous portraits of women. Born in the outskirts of Rotterdam, he was one of four children. At 16 his interest in art was confirmed by his studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. His first subjects were sailors and prostitutes. In 1905, he began to exhibit in Paris and was part of the controversial Salon d’Automne whose members included artists such as Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. Because of the bright colors that they used, they were referred to as Fauves or “Wild Beasts”. In 1906, he became acquainted with Pablo Picasso. After WWI, van Dongen’s paintings became popular with the upper classes and French bourgeoisie. In 1926, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour and three years later he was offered French citizenship. Even so, from 1959 he lived in Monaco and died there in 1968.
Van Dongen is especially known for his paintings of women which sometimes include a cat or a dog. Van Dongen’s Woman and a Cat uses complementary colors to arouse our attention with the cat gently curving in the same line as the woman’s hat. Always linked to women, the cat is seen here as a feminine symbol, but also gives us the feeling of calm self-assured laziness.
Van Dongen was also acquainted with the cat loving Leonard Foujita and in Woman Holding a Cat, we again see the bright colors of the Fauvists while the woman holds the cat lovingly. The cat looks not at the bird above as would be expected, but off to the side. Again, perhaps a reference to its laziness or symbolic of the cat’s happy captivity in the arms of the woman.