Willem de Kooning - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.



    "Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter, like a flash…I still have it now from some fleeting thing—like when one passes something and it makes an impression."
    —Willem de Kooning



    Executed in 1958, Composition emerges from a pivotal moment in Willem de Kooning’s career that marked his critical period of transition towards pure abstraction. Belonging to his highly acclaimed series of Abstract Parkway Landscapes, the present work showcases the yellow ochre and cerulean blue pigment that remained central to his palette not just for this series but ultimately throughout his practice, and signals to the lush Rubenesque color that would come to define his later oeuvre. Through his signature bold slashes and gestural swathes, the composition straddles figuration and abstraction, recalling open fields and slivers of sky whilst conjuring the sensuous fleshy tones of the canonical female nude that would together mutually dissolve into one by the following decade. 



    Seeing Through a New Lens



    "I feel I am getting more myself in the sense of, I have all my forces...I have a bigger feeling now of freedom. I am more convinced, you know, of picking up the paint and the brush and drumming it out."
    —Willem de Kooning



    In 1957, de Kooning began to distance himself from the urban jungle as he began to frequently shuttle between New York City and Long Island to spend more time in the countryside. Inspired by the scenic drives of blurred fields, expansive horizons, and intersecting roads passing before his eyes, he embarked on the series comprising Composition, resulting in some of the most gesturally expressive and sensorial paintings he had conceived to date. “Most of them are landscapes and highways and sensations of that, outside the city—with the feeling of going to the city or coming from it,” de Kooning explained. “I like it in New York City, but I love to go out in a car. I'm crazy about weekend drives, even if I drive in the middle of the week. I'm just crazy about going over the roads and highways…”i



    Willem de Kooning, Bolton Landing, 1957. Private Collection, Artwork: © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    "Actually I've fallen in love with nature. I don't know the names of the trees but I see things in nature very well. I've got a good eye for them, and they look back at me."
    —Willem de Kooning



    In a radical departure from his figurative Women earlier in the decade, de Kooning’s Abstract Parkways from 1957 to 1961 reflect the profound influence of the pastoral landscape on his painterly sensibility. As his greater attention to light blossomed in his canvases, the feverish proliferation of strokes and planes reduced to broad, sweeping brushwork that abridged his planular spatial constructions and enlarged his forms, engendering a simplified, more fluid continuity across the composition. Though this evolution in his pictorial approach comfortably situates itself in the general trend of late 1950s Abstract Expressionism, it revolutionized the course of de Kooning’s practice through an openness that allowed his subjective meditations to pour onto the canvas through pure chromatic exuberance.



    [left] Franz Kline, Zinc, Yellow, and Grey, 1958. Private Collection, Artwork:  © 2021 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Mark Rothko, No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow), 1958. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Artwork: © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    Contrarily, it is precisely the more controlled thrusts and tighter handling of de Kooning’s brush as seen in Composition that bestows the legibility—or ambiguity, as it were—of the relationship between color and form. De Kooning’s gestural orchestrations of the sumptuous blues, whites, browns, and yellows manifest themselves in a Baroque extravaganza under his heavy-laden brush, the flatter application revealing the remarkable speed of his painterly hand. Here, the immediacy at once reflects his perceptual vision of the natural landscape along with the angular twists and turns of curving roads flashing by. On the other hand, it evokes “paintings, angles and sections from the breasts and elbows of [de Kooning’s] Women, from the windows that open to their landscape, from their hands that had turned into meadows.”ii 


  • de Kooning’s Abstract Parkways in Museum Collections

  • David Sylvester: "The pictures done since the Women, are they all landscapes? They are not, in any case, non-objective; or are they in some cases?"
    Willem de Kooning: "No—they’re emotions."

    Encapsulating the artist’s famous mantra that “flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented,” the supple suggestion of the female body would completely liquify into the palette of the Long Island landscape in de Kooning’s canvases after his formal settlement in Spring the following decade. On the road to the artist’s eventual and lifelong move to the idyllic environs of East Hampton, Composition captures de Kooning’s preoccupations to express his raw fascination with his new environment through the language of painting, as embodied in the words of Clifford Odets upon the work’s exhibition at the Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills in 1961. “Each picture has in it the simultaneity and multiplicity of psychological life itself…here a heart, there a face, a woman’s breasts, an egg, a window or a wall, the trivial articles and shapes of everyday life and their colors. All of these things are seen, not static, but in ceaseless motion; interpreting, our view constantly changing.”iii 


    Willem de Kooning, quoted in David Sylvester, “Content is a Glimpse,” recorded March 1960, online.
    ii Thomas B. Hess, quoted in de Kooning: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011, p. 318.
    iii Clifford Odets, “Willem de Kooning, The Painter,” in Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills, 1961, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Ethel and Robert Scull, New York
      Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills
      Luis Mestre Fine Arts, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Christie’s, New York, November 10, 2009, lot 34
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Beverly Hills, Paul Kantor Gallery, Willem de Kooning, April 3-29, 1961, n.p. (illustrated)

Property from an Important Midwestern Collection



signed and dated “de Kooning ’58” lower left
oil and charcoal on paper laid down on board
29 x 23 1/4 in. (73.7 x 59.1 cm)
Executed in 1958.

Full Cataloguing

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021