Kees van Dongen was born Cornelis Theodorus Marie van Dongen in Delfshaven, Holland on January 26, 1877. In 1892, at the age of 16, van Dongen began studies at the Akademie voorBeeldende Kunsten in Rotterdam. While studying at the academy, he worked as an illustrator and sketch artist for the newspaper Rotterdam Nieuwsbald. During this time, he frequented the Red Quarter seaport area, where he drew scenes of sailors and prostitutes.
In December 1899, he returned to Paris to join Augusta Preitinger, whom he met at the Academy. The two married on July 11, 1901, but later divorced in 1921.
In 1905, his works were exhibited at the Salon des Independents and the Salon d’Automne, along with artists Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck and Andrew Derain. This group of artists became known as the fauves (wild beasts), for their strong use of bright colors. During this time, van Dongen became friends with Pablo Picasso. He became a member of the German Expressionist group “Die Brücke”, with whom he exhibited in 1908.
Throughout the 1930s and 40s van Dongen continued to paint portraits of the upper class, landscapes and create book illustrations. He met his second wife Marie-Claire Huguen during this time, who helped him regain interest in the art scene. Kees van Dongen was banned from the Saon d’Automne for one year after World War II because of a Nazi propaganda trip he took in 1941.
Kees van Dongen was awarded the Legion of Honour, the Order of the Crown of Belgium. Two of his works were admitted to the Musee du Luxembourg. He also wrote a biography about Rembrandt, in which he intertwined his own life.
Kees van Dongen died at his home in Monet Carlo on May 28, 1968.