• Post-War & Contemporary Evenin auction at Christies

    Sale 2219

    Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale

    10 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 10

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

    Untitled (Woman)

    Price Realised  


    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
    Untitled (Woman)
    oil, charcoal and graphite on paper
    9 x 9 in. (22.9 x 22.9 cm.)
    Executed circa 1946.

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    Untitled (Woman) embodies that unique quality of bearing witness to momentous developments in the artist's life. Never publicly exhibited before due to its highly personal and special place in the collection of fellow artist Marisol (Escobar). The painting was kept at de Kooning's studio until the mid-1950's, when it was given by de Kooning as a gift to Marisol. Untitled (Woman) is part of de Kooning's intense exploration of the woman in the 1940s. It also marks the first clear emergence in the artist's work of his own unique style and his radical breakthrough to a new and intuitive way of making images. While echoing de Kooning's famous declaration, "Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented," in its employment of the classical motif of the reclining female nude in a way evocative of such paintings as Manet's Olympia, Delacroix's and Matisse's Algerian women in their private chambers, and Degas's portrayal of solitary female figures in boudoir interiors, the work departs from these depictions in revelatory ways.

    Painted in layers of swift, almost choreographed strokes, like the other works from the 1940s, it represents the culmination and triumphant resolution of a number of disparate influences on de Kooning's work at this time. As though taking Manet's sense of humor and irony to an extreme, de Kooning hints at the luxurious interiors in the classical paintings of the female nude without ever defining the space decisively and even replicates the sumptuously tied orange ribbon in Olympia's hair.

    The brushing and scraping technique de Kooning developed during the painting of this picture, manifests itself decisively in the seemingly amorphous forms that are transformed into the bulbous shape of breasts, thighs, and shoulders. As underbrush both alters and regenerates itself from the layers underneath, there seem to be at least two pairs of arms, breasts, and buttocks. In the preliminary drawings, these elements were placed to the left of their 'final' positions. This also creates the illusion of a figure in motion; it is as though we catch a glimpse of her turning swiftly to one side from the other. For de Kooning, the human figure -- the gestural expressions and articulations of the body -- lay at the root of all abstraction. "Even abstract shapes must have a likeness" he famously declared, and whatever forms his lyrical line and sweeping brush made would inevitably, he felt, reflect the scale and actions of his own body. In this respect none of his works could ever be wholly abstract; nonetheless, what interested de Kooning at this stage in his career was to be able to blur the lines and push the limits between figuration and abstraction to breaking point.


    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 1953

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of Marisol