Kees Van Dongen, born in Rotterdam in 1877, began his career as a fauvist painter, later becoming renowned for his portraiture. He showed his artistic talent from a young age, and enrolled at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in the city aged 16, where he studied the Impressionists and Dutch masters; however he did not complete his studies, instead working for two magazines, Groene and Rotterdam Nieusblad. He caused scandal with his drawings of prostitutes, drawn in the Red Quarter of the seaport which he frequented between 1892-97. In 1897 he visited Paris, and was so impressed by the city that he settled there permanently in 1899, eventually becoming a naturalised French citizen and marrying another Dutch painter, Augusta Preitinger. He rented a studio in Bateau-Lavoir, a house in which Picasso was later to live. He and Picasso were to become friends, and he was later to paint Picasso's mistress, Fernande Olivier.
In 1903 he exhibited publicly for the first time, and within two years was allied with the Fauve movement due to the lush colours he used. Two years later he was included in the controversial Salon d'Automne exhibition, exhibiting in the same room as Henri Matisse. The influence of the German Expressionists was strong in his work, and he was to exhibit with Die Brucke in 1908, a group of artists from the German movement. He was part of a wave of avant-garde artists at the time, including Henri Rousseau and Robert Delaunay, renewing painting through Neo-impressionist influences. After the First World War the upper classes began commissioning him for celebrity portraits, the unique colouring of which, and also his combination of Fauvism and German expressionism, form the basis of the appreciation of his work today.
Van Dongen was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1926 and the Order of the Crown of Belgium in 1927. He became a prominent artist during his career, his subjects including Leopold III of Belgium, Maurice Chevalier, and in his later years Brigitte Bardot.
Kees van Dongen died on May 28, 1968, in Monte Carlo.