• Post-War & Contemporary Art Ev auction at Christies

    Sale 2597

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    14 November 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 27

    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

    Reclining Figure

    Price Realised  


    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
    Reclining Figure
    incised with signature, number and date 'de Kooning 4/7 1969-1983' (lower edge)
    67 x 130 x 80 in. (170.2 x 330.2 x 203.2 cm.)
    Conceived in 1969-1983 and executed in the artist's lifetime. This work is number four from an edition of seven plus two artist's proofs.

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    More than any other painter, perhaps with the exception of Henri Matisse or Edgar Degas, Willem de Kooning has successfully transferred the essence of his painterly practice into three dimensional forms. Just as de Kooning used the liquescent nature of oil paint to render his iconic Women paintings of the 1950s, in Reclining Figure the artist exploits the formal properties of his medium to mold the supine figure in rich, intricate detail. As one of the central figures of the Abstract Expressionist generation, de Kooning was not behold to the tradition but his approach to sculpture took this approach in an entirely new direction, one which produced some of the most dramatic works of his career.

    Much like his painting practice, de Kooning produced Reclining Figure by building up constructed layers of media (in this case, clay) until he arrived at the final form. For his sculpture de Kooning preferred using wet malleable clay, a medium which he could work continuously until he was satisfied with the form he had achieved. The pliability of the medium allowed de Kooning to retain total control over his medium, a process which resulted in the energetic surface which bears witness to the direct contact that the artist had with his materials as he manipulates the swathes and fissions in the clay and works it into his desired shape.

    In spite of being executed on such a monumental scale, Reclining Figure still bears this evidence of the artist's hand. To retain the degree of intimacy required by a reclining figure executed on a large scale, de Kooning first produced the form on a more intimate scale. This allowed him to mold the clay exactly to his requirements, rendering the surface with a degree of fluidity and texture would be well known to admirers of his paintings of the female form. This form was then scaled up by de Kooning to a room-sized version, before finally being executed and cast on this epic scale at the Tallix Foundry in upstate New York.

    The sculpture's expressive features clearly recall the energy and vitality of de Kooning's painterly brushstrokes. He valued both sculpture's plasticity and the possibilities that they gave him, and he often commented that the sculptural process allowed 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," de Kooning said in 1972. "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., 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, liking the process so much, that 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 a visiting Henry Moore. 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. Yet, pursuing the figural motif via direct modeling in clay was highly unusual in the 1970s, when Minimalism had given way to planar, geometric forms and industrial surfaces that were pre-fabricated according to artists' specifications. In contrast, the expressive, alternately concave and convex surfaces, the exaggerated forms and the mannered gestures manifest in these works register de Kooning's direct sculptural process.

    "From the outset he approached the sculpture medium with a totally original outlook," the sculptor David Christian once said, "and from the get-go [he]had little consideration of how either clay or even the sculpture medium has been approached historically; that is, either technically, or in terms of the final product" (D. Christian, quot ed in op. cit.,). For the short period in the 1970s when sculpture became his prime source of artistic output, de Kooning produced some of his 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 mere 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.


    Estate of the artist
    Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Estate of David Pincus


    In Honor of de Kooning, exh. cat., Xavier Fourcade, New York, 1983, n.p. (another example illustrated in color).
    Willem de Kooning: New Paintings, Sculpture & Drawings, exh. cat., Xavier Fourcade, New York, 1984 (another example illustrated).
    Willem de Kooning: Retrospective, exh. cat., Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, 1984 (another example illustrated).
    P. Sollers, "Le Naissance de de Kooning," Art Press, June 1984, p. 11 (another example illustrated).
    J. Merkert, "Willem de Kooning: Le plaisir de realité," Art Press, June 1984, p. 11 (another example illustrated).
    P. Shjeldahl, "Rough Sex," Village Voice, 11 June 1996, p. 81(another example illustrated).
    R.D. Friedman, "The Making of Matthew Marks," Manhattan File, vol. 2, issue 22, 1996, pp. 40-41 (another example illustrated in color).
    C. Vogel, "Inside Art: An Invasion of de Koonings," New York Times, 9 October 1998 (another example illustrated).
    L. Lawrence, "The LongHouse that Jack Built," American Style, June 2006, p. 89 (another example illustrated in color).
    D. Elbert, "Pappajohn's Cement Philanthropic Legend," Des Moines Sunday Register, 4 February 2007, p. D1 (another example illustrated in color).
    J. Hayworth and M. Morain, "$30 Million Gift could make D.M. an Art Hotspot," Des Moines Sunday Register, 4 February 2007, p. 8A (another example illustrated in color).
    C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Werk-Theorie-Wirkung, Munich, 2008, p. 385 (another example illustrated in color).
    E. Moskowitz, "Workers Heft Bronze into Hot Spot on Hub Campus," Boston Globe, 7 May 2009 (another example illustrated in color).
    C. Kloostra, "New Sculpture Park in Des Moines," American Style, 1 August 2009, p. 20 (another example illustrated in color).
    "Pappajohn Sculpture Park," Des Moines Sunday Register, 20 September 2009, p. 6 (another example illustrated in color).
    M. Chappellet, Jack Lenor Larsen's LongHouse, East Hampton, 2010, p. 221 (another example illustrated in color).
    B. Teller, "Sculpting a Garden: Chapellet's New Book Captures an Artist's 'Magical, Spiritual' Creation," Napa Valley Register, 2010, p. C3 (another example illustrated).
    M. Salvensen, Exploring Gardens & Green Spaces: From Connecticut to the Delaware, New York, 2011, p. 197 (another example illustrated in color).
    J. Elderfield, de Kooning: a Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011, p. 409 (another example illustrated in color).


    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, December 1983-February 1984, p. 169, no. 282 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
    New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Sculpture, May-June 1996, pp. 16-25 and 63, no. 31 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Bryant Park, Public Art Fund Project, Willem de Kooning:, October 1998-June 1999 (another example exhibited).
    Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, 1999-2002 (another example on extended loan).
    Boston, University of Massachusetts, Arts on the Point, 2002-present (another example on extended loan).
    East Hampton, LongHouse Reserve, 2003-present (another example on extended loan).
    Rotterdam, city center, 2005-present (another example on extended loan).
    Stanford, Graduate School of Business, 2011-present (another example on extended loan).