ca. 1957
oil on canvas
Framed: 26 × 30 1/4 in. (66.04 × 76.84 cm)
Unframed: 21 × 25 1/4 in. (53.34 × 64.14 cm)

Holland-born Kees van Dongen lived most of his life in France after his initial visit to Paris in 1897. In the first decade of the 20th century, he had been an important member of the radical Fauve group of painters and participated in the controversial Salon d'Automne in 1905. He was also briefly affiliated with the German Expressionist group Die Brücke. Although the subject matter of his later career—such as Blue Grass Races and Races at Deauville—appears prosaic when compared to the sensuous portraits and erotically charged bohemian scenes of his avant-garde beginnings, Van Dongen continued to experiment with strident colors, simplified forms and defiantly raw brushwork.


Both of the paintings demonstrate that he remained unconcerned with realistic color values and representation. The racecourses depicted in both images serve as a pretense for the artist to achieve compositional coherence through the interaction between repetitive forms and boldly monochromatic patches of canvas. The white fences that traverse both scenes ignore natural perspective and instead serve to reinforce the dynamic quality of each composition. Along with the approximate geometry of the buildings in the background landscapes, they also define the green rectangles that dominate both canvases as turf. Although the artist realized these paintings several decades after Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-motion photography made it possible for artists to accurately represent the elusive motion of a horse’s gallop, these racehorses thrust their legs out in protest against having to conform to any model from life. Rather than painting according to observations from nature, Van Dongen appears to reference the equine representations of traditional sporting artists like Wootton, Stubbs, Pollard, and Géricault.

Signed lower right: "Van Dongen"
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
2018-2020: "Gallery Takeover: European Masterpieces from the Mellon Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts", Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, March 1, 2018 - March 1, 2020
©artist or artist’s estate

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