The Montmartre Museum glitters with Van Dongen

Kees van Dongen, Portrait of Madame de Plagny or Lady with a fan, 1920

No need to go to the gym this morning, visit the Montmartre museum instead and whether you arrive by tube or by foot, you will climb hundreds of steps to get to this charming, hidden museum which used to be Renoir’s studio, as well as Suzanne Valadon and her son Maurice Utrillo’s. Until August 26, a special exhibition unveils “Van Dongen’s Bateau Lavoir” period. Born in Delfshaven in 1877, he became French in 1929 and died in Monaco in 1968. 

A typical 1900 artist’s studio in the Montmartre museum

Not far away is the Bateau-Lavoir, the artists residence where Juan Gris, Modigliani and Van Dongen had their studio with Picasso, who completed  “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” there.

One of the buildings of the Montmartre museum is reached through the gardens

The museum comprises a series of houses with a very large garden. It is owned by the city of Paris and its collections tell the story of the hill of Montmartre which used to have an abbey with vineyards and windmills in the Middle Ages. In 1880, it became  a “quartier” of Paris with many cafés and cabarets (like Le Chat Noir celebrated by Toulouse Lautrec)  where artists thrived. As is well told in Puccini’s “La Bohême”.

Kees van Dongen, Les Fêtards, ca 1903

So if you pick a sunny day, you can have lunch in the café Renoir, and wander around the gardens. But not before having admired Van Dongen’s drawings (he is famous for his Zola and Proust illustrations, in 1947), his incredibly avant-garde portraits, Montmartre scenes from the Moulin rouge or the countryside.

There is the Spanish season in 1910,  when he paints a fabulous “Spanish dancer”, there is the social season in the 1920’s, when he makes mostly portraits of fashionable Parisians, including Anatole France. There are mostly the ladies of Montmartre, the Ball, the Sacré Coeur at sunrise, and of course many scenes of gentlemen in tails, courting young ladies.

Kees van Dongen, My kid and her mother, ca 1907

In the 1930’s he travels to New York and California and is exhibited in Amsterdam at the Stedelijk museum. A large retrospective is organized in Paris at the Museum of Modern art to celebrate his 90 th birthday in 1967.

This exhibition is curated by Anita Hopmans who is in charge of research at RKD, the Dutch History of art institute and is part of the celebration of Dutch artists in Paris.  Some of Van Dongen’s works also appear at Petit Palais as part of the “Dutch in Paris” exhibition.

(Musée de Montmartre, 12 rue Cortot,  is open every day and the show is on until August 16)

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