Willem de Kooning - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Illinois Institute of Technology, Moholy-Nagy Auction, May 10, 1957
    Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin A. Bergman, Chicago
    Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (gifted by the above)
    Sotheby’s, New York, November 17, 1992, lot 28
    Private Collection
    C & M Fine Arts, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Willem de Kooning, 1941-1959, October 4 – November 16, 1974, no. 18 (illustrated)
    Cambridge, Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Drawings by Five Abstract Expressionist Painters: Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, February 21, 1975 – February 29, 1976, no. 26

  • Catalogue Essay

    Willem de Kooning’s Woman series stands as one of the pillars of post-war American art, and the present Woman drawing, executed in 1952, is one of his earliest and most expressive iterations on paper. The series was begun in earnest in June of 1950, and de Kooning struggled with the first mature masterpiece, the canvas Woman I, now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for two years, finally completing it in the same year that this mesmerizing drawing was realized.

    Executed in striking marks of colored pastel and graphite, Woman manifests all of the inimitable qualities that have garnered such renown and recognition for the series. In fact, the concept of the Woman had preoccupied de Kooning since the early 1940s, shortly after he met Elaine Fried, whom he would marry in 1943. However, there was a profound shift in his work between those early iterations and the eventual paramount pieces of the early 1950s. Namely, in the interim period de Kooning continued to refine and clarify his own modus operandi, focusing on all of the ways in which he was able to render the natural world around him in his unique style by incorporating expressive brushstrokes, line work, overlapping shapes reminiscent of collage, and the bold use of color.

    De Kooning’s Women from the 1950s reflect a very specific sense of place in their composition and design. Woman I, with its strong verticality, frenetic brushwork, and overall directness, manifests the speed, grit, and coarseness of being in the urban landscape, representing the figure as irrevocably entangled within its environment. The effort to complete the painting to his satisfaction so taxed de Kooning that Leo Castelli extended an offer to the artist to take a brief respite at his house in Long Island. Setting up a makeshift studio at the home, de Kooning executed a number of works on paper there, continuing with his newly found motif. Conceivably, this Woman drawing is one from those series. The horizontality of the composition, the strikes of green down the center, and the enigmatic area of cerulean blue in the upper right all seem to reflect a more rural and genteel setting in which this Woman is composed. In addition to their allusions to the landscape, these compositional elements also function as abstracted forms of the body - the woman’s head and pursed-lips mouth can be discerned at upper center sitting atop clearly defined shoulders, which in turn rest above the green slashes that boldly bifurcate the woman’s breasts.

    De Kooning’s form reveals a heightened interest in geometry, virtually dissecting the human body into its constituent parts. The artist’s achievement lies in his innovative total deconstruction of mass and space. De Kooning gathered a profound psychological malaise from within the figure’s anatomy - attacking perceptions of beauty, of the archaic equation between female and domestic, and of his own masculinity, this Woman is a formidable treatise on the existential condition of humanity.



signed "de Kooning" lower right
pastel and charcoal on paper
16 1/8 x 20 in. (41 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1952.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $495,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018