Willem de Kooning - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • The artist’s studio in Springs, East Hampton. Image: © Hans Namuth, Artwork: © The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    A quintessential example of Willem de Kooning’s progressive paintings of the late 1960s, East Hampton V, 1968 reflects a transformative turning point in the artist’s oeuvre when flesh and landscape became evermore entwined. After moving to East Hampton in the early 1960s, he began reinvigorating his principal theme, the woman, with an amplified fluidity and freedom of color that reflected his pastoral environs. By the time he created this composition, de Kooning successfully melded the spirit of the Long Island scenery and the embodiments of the human figure into one. Meeting at the crossroads of flesh and landscape, abstraction and figuration, the present work featured in de Kooning’s solo show at M. Knoedler & Co. in New York in 1969. Soon after its creation, East Hampton V was acquired directly from de Kooning by Dr. Ralph D. Junker in exchange for medical services and, in 1980, was passed on to Dr. Mansoor Day, a colleague of Junker’s at the New York University Medical Center. Having since resided in the family collection, the work is arriving to the market for the first time since its acquisition from the artist.

    "I wanted to get in touch with nature. Not painting scenes from nature, but to get a feeling of that light that was very appealing to me, [in East Hampton] particularly...It would be very hard for me now to paint any other place but here."
    —Willem de Kooning

    Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, 1968. Image: © The Estate of Dan Budnik

    In the early 1960s, de Kooning left the urban jungle of Manhattan for the bucolic idyll of East Hampton, as did a wave of Abstract Expressionists including his close friends Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. In East Hampton, de Kooning became deeply moved by the light and environment of his new surroundings, which translated directly into his practice. Although he had already begun incorporating women in landscapes in the previous decade, the impact of living in Long Island marked a radical shift in his sensibility. Having already developed his confident handling of pigment and passionate gesture, de Kooning, over the course of the 1960s, achieved a remarkable integration of form and color. Titling and creating his compositions in relation to his natural environment, he now seamlessly integrated figure and landscape through his language of abstraction with the palette of East Hampton.

    "When I came here I made the color of sand—a big pot of paint that was the color of sand. As if I picked up sand and mixed it. And the grey-green grass, the beach grass, and the ocean was all kind of steely grey most of the time. When the light hits the ocean there is kind of a grey light on the water...I reflected upon the reflections on the water, like the fishermen do."
    —Willem de Kooning

    Upon settling in the Springs in East Hampton, de Kooning was so inspired by the landscape that he quite literally absorbed the palette in his paintings. Speaking of the light in the Hamptons, the artist remarked, “Indescribable tones...I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted. One was lighting up the grass. That became that kind of green. One was lighting up the water. That became that grey. Then I got a few more colors….I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in. It was like the reflection of light.”i


    Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, 1968. Image: © The Estate of Dan Budnik

    Capturing the essence of the sea, turf, sand, and sun, the lush pigments of the oceanside locale in the present work intermingle with the sensuous fleshy tones through Rubenesque color. Under his heavy-laden brush, de Kooning orchestrates a baroque extravaganza through his gestural abstraction in a striking departure from his women of the 1950s. “Now woman emerged almost always nude and gleefully deliquescing into puddles of liquidity,” Klaus Kertess observed. “The armor-like accumulation of strokes into layered blocks and curved triangles that partially clothes the women of the 1950s were replaced by swirls and twirls of curving strokes. The Cubist grid dissolved into a kind of vagrant rococo.”ii

    "The indeterminate contours and slashing shorthand push the figures de Kooning painted in the second half of the 1960s into abstraction and vice versa. The figure is dared into existence...Like Titian and Manet before him, de Kooning deployed the nude (female) and the clothes (male) in a landscape as much to astonish us as to ravish us with a concert of painting’s possibilities."
    —Klaus Kertess

    In the late 1960s, de Kooning’s figures became more aqueous as forms began to melt away through the lens of East Hampton’s landscape, marking a watershed in the artist’s career that signaled to his later, all-over abstractions of the 1970s. As Bernard Mendes Bürgi noted of the paintings from this period, “The uninhibited handling of gestural tonality shows the human body and nature in a kind of mutual meltdown. The figures seem to be identical to nature and vice versa: landscape becomes body, filled with eroticism, while the figures take on the creature-like qualities of grass or trees.”iii Dissolving body and land through his fiercely liberated and fleeting strokes, the present work embodies de Kooning’s equation of the human figure to nature. “By the late 1960s,” Diane Waldman observed, “de Kooning makes Woman a landscape.”iv

  • From Figuration to Abstraction in East Hampton, 1960s

  • i Willem de Kooning, quoted in Diane Waldman, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1978, p. 27.
    ii Klaus Kertess, “Painting’s Skin,” in De Kooning: Paintings, 1960-1980, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, 2005, p. 54.
    iii Bernard Mendes Bürgi, “Abstract Landscapes,” in De Kooning: Paintings, 1960-1980, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, 2005, p. 22.
    iv Diane Waldman, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1978, p. 25.

    • Provenance

      Dr. Ralph D. Junker, New York and Columbus, North Carolina (acquired directly from the artist)
      Dr. Mansoor Day, New York (acquired from the above in May 1980)
      Sheila Day, New York (by descent from the above in 2013)
      Gifted by the above to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, M. Knoedler & Co., de Kooning: January 1968 – March 1969, March 4 - 22, 1969, no. 15

Property from a Distinguished East Coast Private Collection


East Hampton V

signed "de Kooning" lower right
oil on paper mounted on canvas
41 5/8 x 26 5/8 in. (105.7 x 67.6 cm)
Executed in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $3,055,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021