Willem de Kooning - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Estate of Willem de Kooning; Private collection, Europe

  • Catalogue Essay

    "When I'm falling, I'm doing alright; when I'm slipping away, I say, hey, this is very interesting! It's when I'm standing upright that bothers me: I'm not doing so good; I'm stiff."(Willem de Kooning taken from Paintings 1983-1984, Matthew Marks, New York, 1997)
    Willem de Kooning often expressed his delight in the aesthetics of instability. An action painter during the 1950's and further throughout his life, de Kooning was a contemporary and friend of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Franz Kline to name a few, together forming the New York school of abstract artists who gave a new life to the city's creative scene. Within the spectrum of his work, a constant expressionism and attachment to slippage and instability bare a clear line of Willem's productions; expressing his desire to capture the nature of the moment, the exact second when his energies and life manifest themselves onto the canvas. Through this he searched for an organic display of disembodiment or disequilibrium, working almost hypnotically with the canvas and forgetting all elements of space within the four borders, he enjoyed the notion of free-rotating art pieces which from each angle rotated would provide with a new dimension to view and contemplate the work.
    As de Kooning explains, "No object can be tied down to any sort of reality; a stone may be a part of a wall, a piece of 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 this ‘metaphoric' confusion is fundamental to what I am out to express...And then I occasionally introduce forms which have no literal meaning whatsoever. Sometimes these are accidents, which happen to suit my purpose, sometimes "rhymes" which echo other forms, and sometimes rhythmical motifs which help to integrate a composition and give it movement...Objects don't exist for me except insofar as a rapport exists between them and myself." (Willem de Kooning, quoted in B. Rose De Kooning / Chamberlain: Influence and transformation, New York, 2001)
    Expressionistic in his execution with borderline figurative connotations was what made de Kooning particular in his practice. American curator Robert Storr quotes in his essay on de Kooning's late paintings from the 80s: "When, in his final pictures, the light flickers or a trace wavers, we regard such uncertainties or hesitations with amazement rather than dismay, for they are the most reliable signals we are ever likely to receive of a superior aesthetic intelligence exploring the furthest limits of consciousness itself.
    "The last decade of de Kooning's life was largely at the instigation of his wife Elaine. The artist managed to come to terms with the alcoholism which plagued his adult life and thus gave birth to this transitional period before his death in 1997. During the early 80's his career flourished into new spectrums, his large white canvas's express more movement, more fluidity, a slight revealing of colors, a hint into his common technique of overturning the canvas more than once a day during his production. His revitalized energy and escape through painting became more resilient, subtle and peaceful but deep in its exploration of de Kooning's fascination with the delineation of forms and abstraction created through his organic approach and production onto the canvas.
    We have learned from de Kooning that his artistic purpose clearly offers an emotional alternative to a time bent on destroying the human capacity to feel and to need, to aspire by means of a vast, mechanistic, technologically-monolithic society which rewards a self-serving, nearly robot over-rationality and sterile efficiency, while feeling is viewed as eccentric, aberrational and likely to clog the smooth functioning of a dehumanizing, computer-oriented world. His painting and manifest has its source as both painful and personal, obviously based on feeling over intellect and very probably stemming from some ‘primal event' (as Freud might term it) in his early life, or series of events, so traumatizing that the artist was forced to thrust them into his unconscious, and has spent a lifetime trying to keep a lid on them, only to have the unconscious contents violently erupt countless times in his painting.
    "I get freer...I have this sort of feeling that I am all there now. It's not even thinking in terms of one's limitations, because they come naturally. I think whatever you have you can do wonders with it, if you accept it." (Willem de Kooning, quoted in What Abstract Art Means to Me, New York, 1951)

  • 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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Oil on canvas.
195.5 x 223.5 cm. (77 x 88 in).
Signed ‘de Kooning’ on the stretcher.

£1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for £3,513,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm