Unlike the majority of his fellow Abstract Expressionists, De Kooning often retained a figurative element to his work, and there are interpretations and reflections of nature even in his great abstract series of ‘Untitled’ works from 1977, considered his best year and when his top price at auction of $66million was painted. De Kooning executed very many works in the late 1940s, through the 1950s and early 1960s with the word ‘Woman’ in the title. The top price at auction for such a title is over $19m, for an oil just 28 x 20 inches, and the top 7 prices for any work on paper, starting at $6.4m for a work 8 x 6 inches, are for those with ‘Woman’ in the title. He already had an established career when he started on his Woman series. These paintings, of buxom, vampish females, knotted up in swathes of abstraction, took detours from earlier ladylike forms into a new and violent direction. “If the facial and anatomical distortions of these figures reveal a kinship with Picasso’s famous series of paintings of Dora Maar, de Kooning’s handling of the figure within the space is far more fluid and energized than the rational geometry of Picasso’s Cubist interior spaces,” Judith Zilczer writes in her Phaidon book.
Born in the Netherlands, Willem de Kooning stowed away on a ship to the United States in 1926, settling in New York in 1927. During the 1940s he participated in group shows with other artists who would form the New York school and become known as the Abstract Expressionists. These artists, among them de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, rejected the stylistic norms of Regionalism, Surrealism and Cubism in favour of an emotive and gestural approach to painting. Through their notoriety and acclaim western art’s focal point shifted from Paris to New York and modern art took on a new, enduring facet.
De Kooning’s reputation as a major artist was established with his first solo show at New York’s Egan Gallery in 1948. His daring work was supported by Clement Greenberg and later by Harold Rosenberg, the two most influential American art critics. Zilczer writes that Greenberg, who had hailed de Kooning’s first solo exhibition five years earlier, claimed his painting belonged to ‘the most advanced in our time’, precisely because of the painter’s ambition to invest modern, abstract art with the ‘power of sculptural contour’ derived from the human form. Thus, Greenberg located the artist’s paintings of ‘Woman’ within a ‘great tradition of sculptural draftsmanship’ that encompassed the likes of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Ingres and Picasso.” A retrospective of his work was recently held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work can be found in the world’s greatest museums and collections, including the Stedelijk Museum, Tate Modern, the National Gallery of Australia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Private Collection, NY
Solomon & Co, NY
Barbara Annis Fine Art, NY,
acquired from above in 1997 by a Palm Beach client
Barbara Annis Fine Art, NY, acquired by present owner in 2014