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Egan Gallery, New York
Al Lizar, New York
Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, May 13, 1964, lot 78
Private Collection, New York
Thence by descent to the present owner
Beverly Hills, Paul Kantor Gallery, Willem de Kooning, April 1961, n.p. (illustrated)
Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning, New York: Braziller, 1959, no. 82 (illustrated)
Sally Yard, Willem de Kooning: The First Twenty-six Years in New York, New York and London: Garland, 1986, no. 99 (illustrated)
John Elderfield, De Kooning: A Retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011, p. 157, Fig.1 (illustrated)
"In art, one idea is as good as another. If one takes the idea of trembling, for instance, all of a sudden most of art starts to tremble." Willem de Kooning, 1949
Willem de Kooning’s Stenographer from 1948 comes from a series of works created between 1946 and 1948 which depict in the artist's celebrated gestural abstraction secretaries and stenographers. This series, which engages directly with de Kooning’s earlier interior paintings of the 1930’s, remains historically routed in the aftermath of World War II, when many young women entered the work force.
While preparing for de Kooning’s 2011 retrospective at the Museum of Modern art, curator John Elderfield sought to uncover the artist’s inspiration for this series of paintings and drawings “dominated by shapes that look strangely like Casper the Friendly Ghost, combined with odd, amoebic figures, abstracted body parts, and grinning faces.” (Carol Vogel, “Still Unearthing Discoveries in de Kooning’s Brush Strokes,” The New York Times, September 13, 2011). Elderfield’s curiosity led him to books and films dedicated to administering lessons in secretarial efficiency, which were widely distributed contemporaneously to Casper’s on-screen debut. He identified a correlation between the shapes of the calendar pad in The Secretary’s Day, a film produced by Coronet Instructional Films that demonstrates the daily tasks completed by a secretary and stenographer, and de Kooning’s paintings from the same time; “he came to believe that the small series of black-and-white canvases were inspired by the hooks and curves of the symbols found in shorthand.” (Carol Vogel, “Still Unearthing Discoveries in de Kooning’s Brush Strokes,” The New York Times, September 13, 2011)
Drawing from a myriad of cultural sources, the ghost-like form in the present lot is at once charming and haunting. The reference to the secretary is captured by the title of one of works, Carole Lombard, 1947, which may be a reference to the last name of the secretary in The Secretary’s Day (Carroll), but more closely refers to the famous actress who was killed in a plane crash in 1942. The unearthly, surrealist feel of the composition is reminiscent of the work of prominent New York 1940’s surrealists such as Roberta Matta and Arshile Gorky. “Many de Kooning canvases from the 1940s — quasi-abstract paintings that are darker than much of what he’d done before and have an almost grotesque quality — have rarely been exhibited. The paradox is that those paintings represent the era when, Mr. Elderfield said, ‘de Kooning becomes de Kooning.’” (Carol Vogel, “Still Unearthing Discoveries in de Kooning’s Brush Strokes,” The New York Times, September 13, 2011)
New York Auction 8 May 2016