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    Sale 7704

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    11 February 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 10

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

    Women Singing I

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
    Women Singing I
    signed 'de Kooning' (lower centre)
    oil and charcoal on paper laid down on canvas
    36 x 24in. (91.4 x 60.9cm.)
    Executed in 1966


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    Women Singing I is one of a new series of 'Women' paintings that de Kooning began in 1966 centred around the new image of American women that was then being forged by the changing culture of the 1960s. Drawn from a variety of sources in the popular media with their fascination for the then new fashions of the bikini and the mini-skirt, the new American girl icons of de Kooning's art were pop-singers, go-go dancers, groupies and playboy models. Drawn from mass-media images of a youth culture that was then, and for the first time, coming to dominate all aspects of American life, de Kooning found himself, almost unconsciously, once more engaging with the perennial theme of his art: the alluring, but also terrifying sensual and sexual monster: 'Woman'.
    "I can't get away from the Woman. Wherever I look, I find her" de Kooning said at this time, reflecting the fact that in many ways the new women of these works had actually emerged from a conscious attempt to break out of his old habits and find new means of expression and inspiration. (de Kooning qupted in M. Stevens and A. Swan, De Kooning: An American Master, New York 2005, p. 475). These paintings of the new young American girl however, as de Kooning also repeatedly pointed out, reflected a completely different mood - one that, he said, showed that ultimately, he'd "beaten the monsters". (de Kooning quoted in Willem de Kooning, exh. cat. Washington D.C., 1994, p. 180).

    There is indeed a satirical, almost derogatory edge to de Kooning's depiction of these new American Girl icons in the new paintings he produced in 1966. Playful and wry, the women of these works with their brightly-coloured hair, cheesy grins and gaudy smeared lipstick actually border on caricature. Echoing the fetishistic nature of pop culture, the painterly dismemberment of these women into the constituent parts of their dress, make-up and anatomy is both humorous and reflective of a new graphic style and painterly means of construction. Assemblages of scrawled, smeared, splashed and daubed marks combined with precise, caustic and often amusing illustrative motifs, the female figures of these works emerge from the surface of the canvas as if born from the sensual energy of de Kooning's gestural brushwork. "Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented", de Kooning famously once remarked, but in fact, these works grew out of an extended period of graphic experimentation in which that artist had deliberately attempted to subvert his prodigious gifts as a draughtsman in favour of newer, unconsciously made, but more vital marks. (de Kooning quoted in Willem de Kooning Drawings Paintings Sculptures, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1983, p. 115).

    Following his breakthrough with the painting Woman Sag Harbor of 1964, de Kooning began a practice of producing hundreds of free-form charcoal drawings, mostly of women, while watching television in the evening. Approximating the automatic drawing techniques of the Surrealists and an artist like Cy Twombly's concentrated attempts to untrain the tutored habits of his hand, de Kooning made drawing after drawing at this time with closed eyes or with his left hand or by repeatedly turning the page around while working. The aim was to break away from all and any of his previously acquired habits and ability in search of a more raw and vital approach to mark making. "In this way", de Kooning said, "the drawing comes from something deeper" (de Kooning quoted in De Kooning: An American Master, op. cit., p. 475).

    Women Singing I depicts two blonde girls standing in skimpy dresses singing, their large mouths and downcast eyes a humorous parody of concentrated noise. The painting is one of three large works executed in oil on paper that were first exhibited together at de Kooning's important exhibition of his recent work at M.C. Knoedler and Co in New York in 1967. The other two paintings in this series were Singing Women in the Stedelijk Museum and Women Singing II in the Tate Gallery. Each of these three works functions as a kind of sensual and physical response on the part of the artist and through the plastic medium of paint to the visual and erotic stimuli of these young singing girls. The paint's physicality and the way in which it has been applied, the colour and the gestural splash and play of this tactile and, in de Kooning's hands, seemingly infinitely pliable medium, powerfully evoke the artist's own sensual and sexually-charged response to the women, their bodies, alluring dress, hair and make-up. The figures are, in this sense, androgynous fusions of de Kooning sensual play with material, his desire and the sources or objects of such desire. "You can't always tell a man from a woman in my painting" de Kooning once said, "these women are perhaps the feminine side of me - but with big shoulders. I'm no so big, but I'm very masculine and this masculinity mixed up with femininity comes out on the canvas" (de Kooning quoted in Willem de Kooning from the Hirshhorn Museum Collection, exh. cat. Washington D.C., 1993, p. 53).

    At the same time, as in a related drawing of two young groupies screaming for their idols, Screaming Girls or Untitled clearly shows, the addition to these works of deft caricature-like touches of sharply observed detail, in particular the girls' mouths for example, establish a certain mocking sense of distance and wry amusement. Unlike the Marilyn Monroe goddesses and Picasso-esque devouring monster-women of de Kooning's 'Women' of the 1950s, this new generation of young vixens prompts not so much fear, in addition to desire from de Kooning, but more a wry and benevolent sense of warmth and amusement.

    "You have to start over and over again", de Kooning told Harold Rosenberg in 1964, "As for myself, Goethe said that when you're sixty, you start all over again, and that's what I'm doing. I'm an eclectic artist and have been influenced by a lot of people, but now I'm trying to collect it all together to make a new start. I'm in a state where I'm changing around, finding something. I'm going back to what I used to do, but now I can do it better" (de Kooning quoted in Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., Washington D.C., 1994, p. 174).

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    Provenance

    M. Knoedler and Company, New York.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in the late 1960s.


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that this work is also included in the following:
    D. Shirey, 'Don Quixote in Springs' in Newsweek, November 1967 (illustrated in colour, p. 81).
    P. Hutchinson, 'De Kooning's Reasoned Abstracts' in art and Artists, May 1968 (illustrated, p. 24).
    C. Lichtbau, 'Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman' in arts, March 1969 (illustrated, p. 29).
    G. Drudi, Willem de Kooning, Milan 1972, no. 131 (illustrated in colour).
    H. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning, New York 1983, no. 67 (illustrated, p. 78).
    S. Yard, Willem de Kooning, New York 1997, p. 96, no. 81 (illustrated in colour, p. 96).
    S. Yard, Willem de Kooning, New York 2007 (illustrated in colour, p. 104).


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR


    Literature

    D. Shirey, 'Don Quixote in Springs' in Newsweek, November 1967 (illustrated in colour, p. 81).
    P. Hutchinson, 'De Kooning's Reasoned Abstracts' in art and Artists, May 1968 (illustrated, p. 24).
    C. Lichtbau, 'Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman' arts, March 1969 (illustrated, p. 29).
    G. Drudi, Willem de Kooning, Milan 1972, no. 131 (illustrated in colour.
    H. Rosenberg, de Kooning, New York 1974, pl. 162 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
    H. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning, New York 1983, no. 67 (illustrated, p. 78).
    J. Zilczer (ed.), Willem de Kooning from the Hirshhorn Museum Collection, New York 1993, fig. 45 (illustrated in colour, p. 107).
    S. Yard, Willem de Kooning, New York 1997, no. 81 (illustrated in colour, p. 96).
    S. Yard, Willem de Kooning, New York 2007 (illustrated in colour, p. 104).


    Exhibited

    Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Dix ans d'art vivant 1955-1965, May-July 1967.
    New York, M. Knoedler and Company, de Kooning: Recent Paintings, November-December 1967 (illustrated in colour, on the cover and p. 18).
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Willem de Kooning, September-November 1968. This exhibition later travelled to London, Tate Gallery, December 1968-January 1969; New York, The Museum of Modern Art, March-April 1969; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, May-July 1969 and Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July-September 1969.