My favorite part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Robert Lehman Collection, a sort of mini-Frick in the back of the ground floor that’s something of a collector’s dream: paintings and drawings and sculptures and antiques from a period of over seven hundred years. I spent several hours there this past New Year’s Eve day, and grew particularly attached to this Kees Van Dongen painting 1925, “Avenue du Bois”:
I loved the crush of automobiles (particularly the Boston Cream Pie-colored car in the front right) and the three horses in the back who, though rendered in such rough brushwork, seem so disdainful of the motorcade they’re forced to navigate. And then there’s the Arc de Triomphe in the back, just smudged out of the gray day and wintry trees.
The best part, of course, is the throng of fashionable pedestrians, beginning with the elegant, twig-legged woman hopping into the car, and then the the mother and daughter, the former dressed in a gray sheath (very Chanel) and a beautiful caramel fur coat, and her daughter in a kind of flippy tennis skirt with straw-colored bob. The couple next to them has the wonderful sketchiness of a fashion design illustration, I think: mostly silhouette and insinuation. Behind them, everyone is reduced to a mass of black hats. Add a Sidney Bechet tune and that’s it.
Avenue du Bois (now Avenue Foch) was and remains one of the most fashionable and expensive streets in the city of Paris, and the portrayal of the street as a kind of runway for fashionable dress and automobiles charmed me.
When I returned to look at the painting again a few days later, it had disappeared. They must have rehung the gallery at the very, very beginning of 2013. Much of it—di Paolo’s Creation scene, Ingres’s Princesse de Broglie, Balthus’s nude—remains in tact, but ”Avenue du Bois,” I suppose, no longer invites our gaze.