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Private Collection, acquired directly from the artist
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Felix Landau Gallery, New York
Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York
OK Harris Gallery, New York
Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, New York, November 8, 1979, lot 816
Janie C. Lee, Houston
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Texas Collects: Willem de Kooning & His Contemporaries, March 19 - May 21, 1995
Houston, The Menil Collection, How Artists Draw: Toward the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center, February 15 - May 18, 2008
David Dillon, “Janie C. Lee and David Warren Home,” House & Garden, June 1991, p. 106-107 (illustrated)
“The landscape is in the Woman and there is Woman in the landscapes.” – Willem de Kooning, 1953
Having spent the end of the 1940s dissecting the pictorial elements of Cubism, the dawn of the 1950s saw Willem de Kooning begin to compose his subjects with brimming, energetic strokes and a distinctively voluptuous physicality. His paintings of women would catapult him into the canon of art history, notably those on view at his show Paintings on the Theme of the Woman at the Janis Gallery in 1953, the year that Tattooed Lady, 1953 was executed. Having discovered a new sense of artistic freedom following this exhibition, the artist sought a broader range of techniques, using his outstanding draftsmanship to investigate novel ideas and develop a figurative and complex vocabulary of abstraction, exemplified in the present lot. Both drawing while looking at his subject, and drawing with his eyes shut, with his right hand predominantly but occasionally ambidextrously, de Kooning possessed a masterful ability to cultivate an image of a figure from a variety of marks, from arcs to circles, angles, erasures, and vertical slashes. Tattooed Lady, 1953 retains the hallmarks of his Woman paintings, including the interplay of line, color and shadow with shifting degrees of resemblance and abstraction, the resulting female form which art historian Diane Waldman would describe as “not portraits of a particular subject, but emblems of the female form. They are demimondaine and matriarch rolled into one.” (Diane Waldman, De Kooning: The Women: Works on Paper 1947-1954, New York, 1995, p. 2)
Tattooed Lady, 1953 features a woman with a tattoo on her forearm; her contracted, polygonal body comprised of vivid color marks and dark verticals, revealing the artist’s maturing hand. She is bound to the linearity of an ever-so-slightly slanted rectangle filled in with peach crayon rubbings and given a suggestive pursed expression on her pink lips. Throughout her shape, marginal strokes appear, as her body curves to indicate a pair of short legs, a crude torso and the outline of a window to her right. Tattooed Lady, 1953 foretells of eventual expansion in de Kooning’s compositional language—in 1954, the artist would begin depicting figural elements juxtaposed within fragments of an environment, implying a setting to some effect. Curator Paul Cummings would later affirm de Kooning’s drawings of the 1950s to be “among the most complex of mid-twentieth-century drawings.” (Paul Cummings, Jörn Merkert, and Claire Stoullig, Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, Munich and New York, 1984, pp. 17-18). Notable in the artist’s oeuvre, the present lot, among his sketches, can be considered a significant triumph within the storied practice of Modernism.
New York Auction 8 May 2016