Willem de Kooning - Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Friday, May 17, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gifted by the artist to Elaine de Kooning, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Bridgehampton, New York, Mark Borghi Fine Art, Willem de Kooning: A Retrospective Featuring 35 Works from 1936 - 1978, July 2 - July 22, 2011
    Munich, Galerie Thomas, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner & Willem de Kooning Drawings: The Expressionist Line, September 14 - November 3, 2012
    Berlin, Akim Monet GmbH, Side by Side Gallery, The Aggressive Line: Seminal Drawings of Women - de Kooning, E. L. Kirchner, January 18 - March 9, 2013

  • Literature

    T. B. Hess, Willem de Kooning, Braziller, 1959, no. 94, n.n. (illustrated)
    S. Yard, Willem de Kooning: The First Twenty-six Years in New York, 1986, no. 246, n.n. (illustrated)
    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner & Willem de Kooning Drawings: The Expressionist Line, exh. cat., Galerie Thomas, Munich, 2012, plate 8 (cover illustration)
    The Aggressive Line: Seminal Drawings of Women - de Kooning, E. L. Kirchner, exh. cat., Akim Monet GmbH, Side by Side Gallery, Berlin, 2013, p. 8 (cover illustration)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “ To make a small painting look big is very difficult, but to make a big painting look small is also very difficult.”
    WILLEM de KOONING, 1972

    De Kooning’s 2011 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art illustrated his career’s trajectory to a degree never before achieved with any other exhibition. One of the lasting benefits of that superb show was the dizzying display of de Kooning’s three essential qualities as an artist: the first was his steady prolifcacy, showcased in the exhibition’s tiny sampling of an astoundingly large oeuvre. The next was his ability to thwart the confines of category, as his many paintings refused to fall into stylistic boxes. The final quality, and that which we glance with such touching intimacy in the present lot, was de Kooning’s near-parental relationship to his subjects. In Study for Seated Woman, 1946-1948, de Kooning grants us a first look at his legendary Woman—a sonogram of his brainchild.

    De Kooning spent much of the early part of the 1940s—during his mid-thirties— abstracting subjects that he had first painted in the 1930s. Household items and seated men, among others, all received an Expressionist makeover, displaying elegant lines along with ripened color that propelled them out of the realm of realism: “The late
    1940s was when de Kooning first caught fire, when abstraction and figures first merged… from painting to painting, the single seated figure in the series grows less naturalistic, begins to lose its contours, to dissolve into its surroundings.” (H. Cotter, “De Kooning—A Retrospective’ at MoMA—Review”, The New York Times, September 15, 2011).

    Yet de Kooning’s body of work was immature until he found his most prized subject. De Kooning had married Elaine Fried in 1938, and he began experimenting with her shape in the mid-1940s. De Kooning, intentionally or not, suddenly found himself hearkening back to the habits of the Impressionists in his work— portraying the female subject in a series of intimate poses. The present lot, Study for Seated Woman, 1946-1948, reveals a female subject reclining on a chair; her right arm is raised and curved behind her head, while her left arm stretches outwards. Her parted knees are each distinct, one angular and rigorously executed with thick black lines, while the left knee is barely rendered in wispy strokes.

    Study for Seated Woman, 1946-1948, comes in de Kooning’s first wave of women paintings, a precursor to the full-fledged canvases of the early 1950s. What is remarkable about the present lot, other than its astounding formative value with regard to the creation of the later paintings, is de Kooning’s multitude of influences coming through in its shapes and lines. Like many other Abstract Expressionist artists of the 1940s, de Kooning worked hard to shake the overwhelming influence of Picasso in his paintings, yet we can clearly see snippets of cubist origin in the de Kooning’s mask-work. The triangular nose and angled head of the woman face upwards, contorted. In addition, we see the planes of the breast assume the shapes of the women in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.

    Yet it is de Kooning’s hand that displays its power to the utmost. In the limbs of the figure, we see the delicate lines of hands and feet that direct us forward to 1952’s Woman I; the fingers and toes almost assume the shape of claws, monstrous yet wholly indicative of de Kooning’s independent evolution as an artist. We also find de Kooning developing one of his celebrated visual tropes in the present lot: movement. As a whole, the figure sits in a sexually arresting pose, arms outstretched, legs parted. Yet she seems to recline on an unstable chair, almost comically unbalanced. De Kooning would instill a sense of movement into nearly all of his following paintings, culminating with the dancing abstract portraits of his late career.

    Assessing the importance of de Kooning’s studies is the equivalent of discussing Chopin’s Etudes: they were proving grounds for developing his ideas, rich with the indulgences of artistic experimentation and an unparalleled device for exploring the evolving mind of an artistic genius. In Study for Seated Woman, 1946-1948, we see the perenatal beginnings of de Kooning’s most celebrated subject, ready to make the leap onto the canvas. And, with de Kooning’s affection for both Elaine and the painted figure of legend that she had become, she would do so. The present lot is de Kooning’s last breath before greatness was thrust upon him: a pure study of an artist’s vision.



Study for Seated Woman

pencil on cardboard
11 x 9 1/2 in. (27.9 x 24.1 cm.)

$200,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York 17 May 2013 10am