• Post-War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 2557

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    8 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 26

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

    Large Torso

    Price Realised  

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
    Large Torso
    incised with signature and number 'de Kooning 7/7' (lower right)
    bronze
    36 x 31 x 26½ in. (91.4 x 78.7 x 67.3 cm.)
    Executed in 1974. This work is number seven from an edition of seven plus two artist's proofs.


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    The brief, but dramatic, sojourn that Willem de Kooning made into the world of sculpture during the first half of the 1970s produced some of the most intensely expressive works of his career. Along with Picasso and Degas, de Kooning was one of the very few painters who successfully made the transition from canvas to plinth, and the vivid and energetic brushstrokes which had defined his work up to this point were perfectly suited to the transformation into the tactility of the sculptural form. Like his iconic painterly human forms, the facial features that emerge from the surface of the work are packed with the marks of their creation: the heavily worked surface evinces the artist's physical and conceptual tussles with his new medium, as he took full advantage of the astonishing aesthetic possibilities that sculpture offered him.

    De Kooning constructs the majestic proportions of Large Torso's quasi-human features by building up the body with layers of clay piled high and heaped on top of each other until recognizable forms begin to emerge. He preferred using extremely wet clay, as he found it had a similar consistency to that of oil paint; this pliability allowed de Kooning to have total control over the medium resulting in the creation of great swathes and fissures in the surface of the clay as he manipulated it into the desired shape. The sculpture's highly modeled surface retains the presence of de Kooning's own hand, with deep impressions in the areas where he dug in his fingers, pinching the clay for emphasis, clearly visible in the surface as he actively willed the sculpture to come into being. The long arms and large, heavy hands convey a primordial sense of the origins of mankind-a figure dragging itself up from the earth from which it was formed like some kind of pre-historic swamp-creature. The figure has a palpable, seemingly degraded bodily presence, with its knotty muscles, distorted pose, and grotesque visage. And yet, these very human qualities claim their own space as surely as their power compels the viewer's attention.
    &R These expressive features recall the energy and vitality of de Kooning's painterly brushstrokes. He valued both sculpture's plasticity and the possibilities that they gave him for being absorbed in the process of creation, allowing more time to perfect his compositions without losing the sense of energy that was inherent in his work: "In some ways, clay is even better than oil. You can work on a painting but you can't start over again with the canvas like it was before you put the first stroke down. And sometimes, in the end, it's no good, no matter what you do. But with clay, I cover it with a wet cloth and come back to it the next morning and if I don't like what I did, or changed my mind, I can break it down and start over. It's always fresh" (W. de Kooning, quoted in J. Elderfield (ed.), de Kooning: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011, p. 411).

    De Kooning began making sculpture in the summer of 1969 during a holiday in Rome. There, he ran into an old friend, Herzl Emmanuel, who owned a bronze casting foundry. At his friend's invitation, de Kooning began to work in clay, and liking the process so much, he produced thirteen small sculptures that he had cast. These works were shipped to the artist's gallery in New York, where they were seen by Henry Moore, whose own exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery had brought him to New York. The older artist's enthusiastic approval paved the way for de Kooning's further investigation into this medium. The human figure that had recurred throughout his oeuvre in painting was a natural subject to pursue in sculpture; it also enabled a dialogue with a historical lineage of figural sculpture that continued into the 20th century with Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giocometti. Pursuing the figural motif via direct modeling in clay was highly unusual in the 1970s when Minimalism had given way to three-dimensional geometric objects whose industrial surfaces were pre-fabricated according to artists' specifications. In contrast, the expressive, alternately concave and convex surfaces, the exaggerated modeling, and the mannered gestures manifest in these works register de Kooning's direct sculptural processes.

    De Kooning made figurative sculpture pertinent to contemporary times. He initially intended his sculpture to be a way of enhancing his painting practice, but also found that his painting helped him produce dramatically original figurative sculpture, as his studio assistant at the time, David Christian, recalls: "From the outset he approached the sculpture medium with a totally original outlook, and from the get-go he had little consideration for how either clay or even the sculptural medium has been approached historically: that is, either technically, or in terms of the final product. He was always totally focused on the work at hand and the completion of an individual work barely entered his thinking at all. Once he started sculpting, painting, or drawing, finishing was the last thing on his mind and everything was a string to the next bead" (D. Christian, Ibid., p. 411). For the short period in the 1970s when sculpture became his prime source of artistic output, de Kooning produced some of his most dramatic and striking work. While the power and force of his earlier painterly figures have been transformed into three dimensions, works such as Large Torso are not simply reproductions of earlier forms. The physicality of the medium allowed de Kooning to fully realize the expressive nature of his artistic prowess--with unparalleled results.

    Provenance

    Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2001


    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Pincus Family Foundation


    Literature

    J. Bell, "Willem de Kooning's New Work," Arts Magazine, November 1975, p. 80 (another example illustrated).
    C. Ratcliffe, "Willem de Kooning," Art International, December 1975, p. 18 (illustrated).
    De Kooning - New Works: Paintings and Sculpture, exh. cat., Seattle Art Museum, 1976, no. 26 (another example illustrated).
    De Kooning: Sculpture and Lithographs, exh. cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1976, no. B-25 (another example illustrated).
    J. Juffermans, "Woede, haat en liefde in verwrongen figuren," De Nieuwe Linie, 17 March 1976, p. 9 (another example illustrated).
    J. Cowart, "de Kooning Today," Art International, Summer 1979, p. 12 (another example illustrated).
    K.V. Reinke, "De Kooning bie Strelow: Elan und Continuitat," Düsseldorf Handelsblatt, 4 December 1980, p. 23 (another example illustrated).
    M. Kangas, "De Kooning," Argus, 29 February 1980, p. 6 (another example illustrated).
    H. F. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1983, p. 101, fig. 92 (another example illustrated).
    J.M. Joosten, Stedelijk Museum: Twenty Years of Collecting, Amsterdam 1984, p. 102, no. 445 (another example illustrated).
    D. Waldman, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1988, p. 123, no. 95 (another example illustrated).
    P. Sollers, De Kooning, Vite II (Oeuvres), Paris, 1988, pl. 81 (another example illustrated in color).
    Willem de Kooning Sculpture, exh. cat., New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, 1996, p. 58, fig. 25 (another example illustrated).
    A.L. Dunningpon, "An Art Spectacular," Antiques and the Arts Weekly, 10 January 2007, p. 71.
    M. Stevens and A. Swan, de Kooning: An American Master, New York, 2007, p. 559.


    Exhibited

    Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts and St. Louis, Washington University Gallery of Art, De Kooning: Drawings/Sculptures, March 1974-June 1975, no. 151, fig. 69 (clay model illustrated; another example exhibited).
    New York, Fourcade, Droll, Inc., De Kooning: New Works, Paintings and Sculptures, October-December 1975, no. 26 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    West Palm Beach, Norton Gallery of Art, De Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture 1967-1975, December 1975-February 1976, p. 23, no. 3 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    Seattle Art Museum, Modern Art Pavilion, De Kooning: New Paintings and Sculpture, February-March 1976, no. 26 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Duisburg, Wilhelm-Lehmbruck Museum; Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire and Grenoble, Musée de peinture et de sculpture, Willem de Kooning: Sculptures, Lithographs and Paintings, March 1976-January 1978, no. 25 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Art Institute of Chicago, 72nd American Exhibition, March 1976, no. 6 (another example exhibited).
    Los Angeles, James Corcoran Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, May-June 1976, no. 25 (another example exhibited).
    East Hampton, Guild Hall, Artists and East Hampton: A 100 Year Perspective, August-October 1976 (another example exhibited).
    Austin, University of Texas, De Kooning: Lithographs, Sculpture and Painting, October-November 1976, no. 8 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Fourcade, Droll, Inc., De Kooning, New Paintings, October-November 1976 (another example exhibited).
    Houston, University of Texas, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery, De Kooning: Recent Works, January-February 1977, no. 8 (another example exhibited).
    Paris, Galerie Daniel Templon, Willem de Kooning: peintures et sculptures récentes, September-October 1977 (another example exhibited).
    Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery and London, Serpentine Gallery, The Sculptures of de Kooning with Related Paintings, Drawings and Lithographs, October 1977-January 1978, no. 25 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, February-April 1978, p. 128, pl. 97 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture: Brancusi to Lichtenstein, February-April 1978, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Large Scale, Small Scale, April-June 1978.
    Cedar Falls, University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art; St. Louis Art Museum and Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Museum, De Kooning 1969 - 78, October 1978-April 1979, no. 39 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Paris, Muse National d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; Düsseldorf, Stadtische Kunsthalle and Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, The Strange Nature of Money, October 1978-September 1979 (another example exhibited).
    Bucharest (and traveling), organized by the International Communications Agency, The Artist at Work in America, 1979-1981 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Willem de Kooning: Recent Paintings, October-November 1979 (another example exhibited).
    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Willem de Kooning: Pittsburgh International Series, October 1979-January 1980, p. 145, no. 128 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Seattle, Richard Hines Gallery, Willem de Kooning, January-February 1980 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Pratt Insitute Gallery; Little Rock, Arkansas Arts Center; Tempe, Arizona State University and Hanover, Dartmouth University, Sculpture in the Seventies: The Figure, November 1980-March 1982, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Düsseldorf, Galerie Hans Strelow, Willem de Kooning: Gemälde, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, November-December 1980 (another example exhibited).
    East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, May-July 1981, p. 21, no. 73 (another example exhibited).
    Akron Art Museum, The Image in American Painting, 1950-1980, September-November 1981, p. 19, pl. 2 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Willem de Kooning: the Complete Sculpture 1969-1981, May-June 1983 (another example exhibited).
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Humlebaek, Luisiana Museum of Modern Art and Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Willem de Kooning, The North Atlantic Light 1960-1983, May-October 1983, p. 113, no. 73 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Cologne, Joseph-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Willem de Kooning: Skulpturen, September-October 1983, pp. 80-81, no. 24 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Berlin, Academie der Kunst and Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Willem de Kooning, December 1983-August 1984, p. 264, fig. 280 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Fort Collins, Colorado State Univeristy, Willem de Kooning: Recent Works, March 1984, no. 31 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Willem de Kooning Painting and Sculpture 1971-1983, November 1984-January 1985, no. 21 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, De Kooning: La Sculpture et des peintures, March 1997, p. 239, no. 177 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    New York, Matthew Marks Gallery and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Willem de Kooning: Drawings and Sculpture, October-December 1998, pp. 67 and 117 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Panopticon: An Art Spectacular, October 2002-August 2003, no. 408 (another example exhibited).
    Baden-Baden, Foundation Frieder Burda, Eroffnungsaustellung, October 2004-February 2005 (another example exhibited).
    Baden-Baden, Museum Sammlung Freider Burda, Picture Change, February-June 2005 (another example exhibited).
    Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, New York, NY: Fifty Years of Art, July-September 2006, p. 70, no. 5 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda, Sculpture by Painters, July-October 2008, p. 197 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
    Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda, There's Something About These Pictures...Insights into Collection Frieder Burda, March-June 2010.
    Amsterdam, Temporary Stedelijk, Changing Views of the Collection, March-October 2010p. 56 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, de Kooning: A Retrospective, September 2011-January 2012, p. 416, no. 164 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).