Les Franciscaines, which I discovered last year in Deauville, is the new meeting place where one can browse through multiple exhibitions, a Mediatheque, and a library with comfortable reading space with all the magazines and daily newspapers. A perfect spot to visit on a rainy day in Normandie. I was there recently to see the new Kees Van Dongen exhibition, an artist I know mostly from his 77 watercolors for the 1947 Gallimard edition of Proust’s “Recherche du Temps Perdu” which did not feature in the show. He travelled to Deauville as early as 1903 in the steps of fellow Dutch artist Jongkind and was a regular there in the 1920’s. His son, Jean Marie, lent some of the 100 works exhibited which also came from Centre Pompidou, MAM Paris, l’Orangerie and other private collections… The show is a good illustration of what the city of Deauville has become in the XX th century, the center of horse races, casino, music and movie festivals and social bathing.
Kees Van Dongen was full of surprises and I learned there that he organized (and practiced) boxing combats in his studio: a painting shows the poet Arthur Cravan boxing with the professional Charles MacAvoy probably at 33 rue Denfert-Rochereau. The collector Paul Guillaume is represented by a strong portrait of 1930 and so is actress Geneviève Vix acting as Salomé in 1923 and Luisa Cervallo as “The lady with necklace” in 1928. A very surprising almost abstract etching with aquatint from 1928, shows a lady wearing a silver fox fur at the racecourse. She stands on a chair with high heels, watching the steeple chase.
A portrait of “Mademoiselle Jeanne Ricotti” in riding clothes, “the Paddock at the racecourse”, “Sunday at the Beach” give a good idea of how sporty some members of the society were at the time. While some works are interesting strictly from the way they detail everyday life, others are truly innovative and modern for the times. I was particularly interested by “A bar at the beach” where everyone is formally dressed in the middle of the day and famous dancers portraits, or his “garçonnes” from the 20’s with their androgynous looks.
A book on Deauville was published in 1931 with fashion designer Paul Poiret who had been a close friend since the early 1910’s and it relates the changes between the 1920’s and the 1930’s.
Walking through the exhibit is a very pleasant experience and whether you like Van Dongen’s style or not, the show is a perfect way to discover the elegant old Deauville which is only visible nowadays through its houses. The Festival of American films is taking place this week until Sunday 11.
Outside the Franciscaines a tribute to French American sculptor Alain Kirili includes three totems in honey golden Burgundy-Corton stone and a triptych called “Ascension”. Van Dongen is on until September 27.
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