Stenographer

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  • Provenance

    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

  • Exhibited

    Beverly Hills, Paul Kantor Gallery, Willem de Kooning, April 1961, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    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)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "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)

  • Artist Bio

    Willem de Kooning

    Dutch-American • 1904 - 1997

    Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and moved to the United States in his early 20s, arriving in Manhattan by 1927. A founding member of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, de Kooning was a contemporary of painters Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and of course his wife, Elaine de Kooning. 

    Known for having stated “flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented,” de Kooning’s work often evokes the human body--even as some of his contemporaries moved towards pure abstraction. Like the other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning was a proponent of “Action Painting,” which emphasized the physical aspect of their work, eschewing the idea that painting was necessarily a careful, precise art form. By the 1960s, the artist was living and working out of his farmhouse on Long Island, and he managed to breathe new life into his work after decades in an urban environment. Though he was no longer a public figure at that time, the resultant body of works that he produced from 1975 through 1977 are among his most renowned, both critically and in the marketplace – his auction records since 2006 have been works from this period. Following a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s, the artist made his last work in 1991 and passed away in 1997.

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32

Stenographer

1948
oil on paper on panel
24 x 19 1/2 in. (61 x 49.5 cm)
Signed “de Kooning” lower left.

Estimate
$400,000 - 600,000 

sold for $485,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016