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Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Property from the Collection of Lee V. Eastman
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Cross-Legged Figure

Details
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Cross-Legged Figure
signed and numbered 'de Kooning 7/7' (on the proper left leg)
bronze with brown patina
24 x 13¼ x 16 in. (61 x 33.7x 40.6 cm.)
Cast in 1972. This work is number seven from an edition of seven plus three artist's proofs.
Provenance
Acquired from the artist
Literature
H. Rosenberg, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1974, n.p., pl. 204 (illustrated).
H. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1983, p. 100, no. 89
(another example illustrated).
P. Sollers, de Kooning, Vite, Paris, 1988, vol. II, p. 82, no. 76 (another example illustrated).
M. Prather, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, exh. cat. National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 178, no. 5 (another example illustrated).
"Market Results: Contemporary Work," The Art Newspaper, London, June 1994, p. 39 (illustrated).
A. Forge, D. Sylvester and W. Tucker, Willem de Kooning Sculpture, exh. cat. Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 1996, p. 55, no. 15 (another example illustrated).
S. Yard, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1997, p. 101, no. 86 (illustrated).
B. Hess, De Kooning, Cologne, 2004, p. 65 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Sculpture and New Paintings, October-November 1972, n.p., no. 47 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, De Kooning: drawings/sculptures, March 1974 - April 1975, n.p., no. 65 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, February-April 1978, p. 122, no. 91 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art, De Kooning 1969-78, October 1978-June 1979, p. 43, no. 32 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Pittsburgh, Museum of Art Carnegie Institute, Willem de Kooning, October 1979-January 1980, p. 136, no. 119 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
East Hampton, Guild Hall, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, May-July 1981, p. 30, no. 70 (illustrated, another example exhibited). Amsterdam, The Stedelijk Museum; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Willem de Kooning: The North Atlantic Light, May-October 1983, p. 106, no. 65 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Cologne, Josef Haubrich Kunsthalle, Willem de Kooning: Sculpture, September-October 1983, p. 63, no. 15, (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Münich; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art and Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, December 1983-February 1984, p. 256, no. 271 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Under Development: Dreaming of The MCA's Collection, April-August 1994, p. 15, no. 51 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
London, Waddington Galleries, Of The Human Form, November-December 1995, p. 14, pl. 6 (illustrated in color, another example exhibited).
New York, C&M Arts, Willem de Kooning: Selected Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1973, October-December 2000, pl. 9 (illustrated on the back cover in color, another example exhibited).

Lot Essay

De Kooning began making sculpture in the summer of 1969 during a holiday in Rome, while visiting his friend Herzl Emmanuel who owned a bronze-casting foundry. At his friend's invitation, de Kooning started making small objects modeled with clay.He liked the process so much that he cast a set of thirteen sculptures. They were shipped to New York to his dealer Fourcade Droll Inc. When Henry Moore who was visiting New York at the time saw these works at the gallery, he made the canny suggestion of enlargening the figurines. De Kooning allowed Untitled 12 to be enlarged and was so pleased with the result, he began the process for two others.

Cross-Legged Figure belongs to a group of sculptures, which he executed after his return to New York. Naturally de Kooning chose a fitting subject matter for his sculpture: the human figure. His decision to work within the figurative tradition was highly rare and unusual one for a sculptor working in the 1970s. His sculptures reference the great modern sculptors, namely the works by Rodin and Giacometti. However traditional or conservative de Kooning's choice of medium and subject matter may be, the final outcome of his sculptures was entirely new and innovative. The sculptures have a highly modeled surface and textured formed by de Kooning's own hands. They retain deep impressions in the areas where he dug in his fingers, pinching the clay for emphasis, actively willing the sculpture to come into being. The figures have true bodily presence; they are unidealized with their knotty muscles, distorted poses and grotesque visages. And yet, they are compelling by their very human qualities, and powerfully claim their space.

De Kooning's sculptures closely resemble the undulating figures in his paintings and drawings. The ideas for this particular work include two paintings executed around the same time. "The twisted limbs of a bronze form from 1972, Cross-Legged Figure, reenact in three dimensions the amusing anatomical contortions de Kooning had explored in two closely related paintings in a modified door format, Untitled of 1970 and Woman in the Garden of 1971. In all three works the figure is arranged along a central vertical spine in what Hess had called a 'totem-pole alignment' when describing earlier paintings. This treatment of the figure seems to have emerged from a group of drawings de Kooning made in the late 1960s of figures doing the Charleston." (M. Prather, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, exh. cat., Washington, D.C. National Gallery of Art, 1994, p. 179). The indeterminate gender of Cross-Legged Figure is further established by its similarity to the Crucifixion drawings, a rare treatment of the male figure. In the new biography of de Kooning, the authors make distinctions between Cross-Legged Figure and de Kooning's Clamdigger sculpture: "Notable among them was Cross-legged Figure, which was suspended slightly above the ground rather than rooted in the earth like Clamdigger. Twisted brutally around a central axis, the figure had arms that were flung backward, in a dramatic counterpose to the legs; its huge hands were splayed out like those of a tap-dancing minstrel singer mugging for the crowd. Cross-legged Figure displayed less control, however, than a minstrel singer would. It seemed to be a puppet of forces larger than itself, juiced by unexpected jolts of electricity and spasmodically contorted into new positions." (M. Stevens and A. Swan, p. 547.)

Cross-Legged Figure is an extremely satisfying sculpture to behold. The figure looks entirely different from different angles because of its contorted pose and enormous range of expression. De Kooning's assistant David Christian created an aluminum armature that was strong yet flexible enough so that it could withstand masses of wet clay built up and configured in gravity-defying poses. The figure has attenuated limbs, where the arms jut backward with outstretched hands while the legs cross over. The head seems almost severed from the neck and projects forward while the torso looks compacted. The sculpture almost levitates and most certainly defies the conventions of classical sculpture. Cross-Legged Figure appears as if it is moving through space.

De Kooning made figurative sculpture pertinent to contemporary times. "What makes all of de Kooning's sculpture so rich--and what must modify all attempts at aesthetic analysis and psychological interpretation--is its strain of zestful, paradoxical humor. This is his equivalent of Rodin's electric sensuality and Giacometti's sly, dark irony, the idiosyncratic accent of the great modern artist. It is the emulsifying agent, so to speak, for many kinds of meaning. We have not been used, for some time, to an art of such challenging fullness, just as we are unaccustomed to taking contemporary figurative sculpture seriously. Nothing, at first glance, could seem more unnecessary than de Kooning's sculpture. Even now, however, these works have begun to create their own necessity through the medium of our experience. We may expect to have more to think, feel and say about them, as they work their slow effects on us, in the coming years." (P. Schjeldahl, De Kooning drawings/sculptures, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1974, p. 74.)

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