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  • Willem de Kooning’s reputation as a celebrated master draftsman was best articulated by Diane Waldman, who espoused that his “contribution to drawing is as far-reaching as it has been to painting.” For de Kooning, drawing was integral to his work; over his long career, de Kooning drew on and over various surfaces, eschewing any notion of definitive artistic output while experimenting with line, form and space. As Thomas B. Hess observed, “de Kooning is always drawing.” Not merely intended as preparatory studies for larger pieces, de Kooning’s drawings were part of a continuous and unified artistic process that occurred across various media.


    A differential use of graphic density invigorates Three Women, executed circa 1958, as delicate, fluent lines forming two figures on the right are balanced by the more forceful marks on the left. In the middle, a central woman composed of identifiable features and geometric forms gazes towards the viewer. This juxtaposition epitomizes the tensile interplay between figuration and abstraction which fascinated de Kooning and defined his oeuvre.


    Exemplifying the artist’s vigorous approach, the present work betrays de Kooning’s signature dynamic employment of pencil to paper: through the immediacy of his mark-making, he enlivens the surface of and the forms within Three Women. The subject is also perhaps the most iconic of the artist’s œuvre: women, the depiction of which the artist extensively explored in both his drawings and greatest paintings and which constitutes one of the most revolutionary series in 20th century art. This chapter of his career, which he debuted in 1953 at Sidney Janis Gallery, has evoked a wide range of responses, from the horrified to the lauding, and has become one of the greatest spectacles of post-war art.

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      M. Knoedler & Co., New York
      B.C. Holland Gallery, Chicago
      Private Collection, Chicago
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Willem de Kooning

      American • 1904 - 1997

      Born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Willem de Kooning 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 Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and of course his wife, Elaine de Kooning. Having claimed that “flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented,” de Kooning is best known for his rapid, forceful brushwork and thickly impastoed paint in evoking the human body, even as some of his contemporaries moved towards pure abstraction. Like the other New York School painters, de Kooning was a proponent of “Action Painting,” which emphasized the physical aspect of the work, eschewing the idea that painting was necessarily a careful, precise art form.

      By the 1960s, the artist was living and working in East Hampton, where he managed to breathe new life into his work after decades in an urban environment and remained there until his death in 1997 at the age of 92. De Kooning’s works reside in leading institutions worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., Tate, London, and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

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Property from a Distinguished Collection


Three Women

signed "de Kooning" lower right
graphite on paper
12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Executed circa 1958.

Full Cataloguing

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $63,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session, New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021