Kees Van Dongen, real name Cornelis Théodorus Marie van Dongen was born in the Netherlands, and had been drawing since childhood. In 1892, he entered the School of Decorative Arts in Rotterdam.
He arrived in Paris in July 1897, and spent a few years living from hand to mouth in Montmartre. He contributed to the Assiette au beurre and other satirical weekly magazines, and became known for his caricatures.
His paintings were noticed, and in 1904 he began to exhibit in the gallery of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and at the Salon des Indépendants. He met Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954). In 1905, he also exhibited at the Salon d’Automne, where the bright colours in his works, along with those of Vlaminck and Matisse, gave the name to a group of painters: the "Fauves" or Wild Beasts. He left Montmartre in 1912 for Montparnasse, and his Fauve period ended around 1913.
In March 1918, the young art dealer, Paul Guillaume (1891-1934), organised an exhibition of twenty-five recent paintings by Van Dongen. The event was announced by the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who was a close friend of Paul Guillaume but who died at the end of that year.
After the First World War, Kees Van Dongen became the emblematic portrait artist of Parisian society in the 1920s, a period that marked the height of his career and brought him wealth and fame. Awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1922, he finally obtained French nationality in 1928.