Willem de Kooning - Contemporary Art London Thursday, June 21, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist; Collection Dane Dixon, New York

  • Literature

    E. Leffingwell and A. Shoumatoff, Keeper’s Memory: A Private Collection and
    a Narrative History of Chácara Flora, São Paolo, 2003, p. 172 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “When I see a puddle, I stare at it. Afterwards, I don’t paint the puddle but the image that it evoked. All of my inner images come from nature anyway.” (B. M. Bürgi, K. Kertess, R. Ubl, ed.; de Kooning. Paintings 1960 – 1980 Kunstmuseum Basel, 2005, p.20)
    With vivid, expressive brushstrokes, Willem de Kooning’s Untitled is an iconic painting of its time. Embodying all the painterly characteristics of a
    new and sought after Modernism, it captures a sense of the sublime within the physical act of abstract painting. Like Jackson Pollock’s work before him, it embraces a Modernist approach [cf. Figure 1 and 2]. What emerges is a new way of painting – a way dominated by the artist physically interacting with his work, where the work of art would not be solely the result of the artist’s hand but the artist’s body in motion as well. Art critics such as Harold Rosenberg had begun to refer to the rebellious artform as Action Painting, a term that spread rapidly from Pollock to de Kooning and Franz Kline, even to the expressive sculpture of John Chamberlain.
    “Art as action rests on the enormous assumption that the artist accepts as real only that which he is in the process of creating….” (Harold Rosenberg in B. Rose, de Kooning/Chamberlain, New York, 2001, p. 5)
    Differing from his colleagues, de Kooning never found himself drifting from the concept of ‘true’ painting. In Untitled he retains a painterly scale reminiscent of the landscapes of the Impressionists and German Expressionists, its distinct pallet referring to a landscape derived from his native Holland. The painting appears in a space between figuration and abstraction, the plane divided through what could be interpreted as an opalescent sky above rich passages of oceanic blue and the darker, still golden hues of landscape below [cf. Figure 3]. These reference points would provide an inspirational pool from which de Kooning would later create the large-scale abstractions of the 1980s.
    It is this notion of effect that the painters of this period sought to achieve – a sense of evoking something rather than portraying it, abstracting the concrete while triggering certain connections to visual realities, Untitled demonstrates a desire to move closer to the mythic goal of Modernism while not abandoning the traditional components of painting completely. It seems fair to say that de Kooning, even more than Pollock or Kline, held on to some painterly past, pushing the practice of painting to its limits, giving way to the abstract composition to be found in the enjoyment of pure paint.
    “No object can be tied down to any sort of reality; a stone may be part of a wall, a piece of a sculpture, a lethal weapon, a pebble on a beach, or anything else you like, just as this file in my hand can be metamorphosed into a shoe horn or a spoon, according to the way in which I use it…So when you ask me whether a particular form in one of my paintings depicts a woman’s head, a fish, a vase, a bird, or all four at once, I can’t give you a categorical answer, for his “metamorphic” confusion is fundamental to what I am out to express…And then I occasionally introduce forms which have no literal meaning whatsoever…Objects don’t exist for me except insofar as a rapport exists between them and myself.” (Willem de Kooning taken from B. Rose, de Kooning/Chamberlain, NewYork, 2001, n.p.)
    Whatever the scale, his emphasis on texture and the creation of planes of paint that overlap and intermix remains imperative. Impressively, Untitled remains a work of vitality and immediacy in which de Kooning absorbsthe surrounding atmosphere and visually inscribes it within the painting, a painterly effect that results in a surface that consumes the painting’s overall tonality. Master of such techniques, de Kooning was known to place a prepared brush in a tin of water at the end of his working day. As he resumed his work, the applied paint would take ages to dry, in the process infusing the surface with a unique and distinctive hue and texture. With these passages of blue, streaks of yellow and green and the darker markings of black and terracotta, Untitled exemplifies de Kooning’s genius of paint handling and sure command of composition.

  • 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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circa 1967
Oil on paper laid down on canvas.
24 x 22 1/8 in. (61 x 56.2 cm).
Signed “de Kooning” and dedicated “for Dane” on the reverse.

£600,000 - 800,000 

Contemporary Art

22 June 2007, 4pm & 5pm