Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Property from the Collection of Emilie S. Kilgore
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Woman and Child

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Woman and Child
signed 'de Kooning' (lower left); inscribed 'to Emilie with Love' (on the reverse)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
55 x 36 in. (139.7 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted circa 1967-1968.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 1977
Beverly Hills, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., Willem de Kooning: An exhibition of Important Paintings and Works on Paper, January-February 1991.

Brought to you by

Robert Manley
Robert Manley

Lot Essay

"I love you wherever you are forever...You made me over...You're with me all the time even when you're not with me" -- excerpts of a letter written by Willem de Kooning to Emilie S. Kilgore, 1970.

Willem de Kooning built up this rich and highly painterly rendition of a woman and child from rich layers of his signature vigorous brushwork. We can see the intensity at which he worked in the thick individual pigment swathes that sweep across the canvas's surface. He painted Woman and Child during a particularly abundant period. The previous year he began a new series of his Women paintings, focusing on the image of the modern American women that the social and political movements of the 1960s were forging. De Kooning looked at popular culture images, and created assemblages of scrawled, smeared, splashed and daubed marks combined with precise and amusing illustrative motifs. The female figure emerges from these works' surfaces 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 (W. de Kooning, quoted in Willem de Kooning Drawings Paintings Sculptures, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1983, p. 115). These works also grew out of an extended period in which the artist experimented graphically, deliberately subverting his prodigious gifts as a draughtsman in favor of more vital, newer, unconsciously made marks. De Kooning's depictions of women are among his most celebrated and significant works.

This work comes from the collection of Emilie S. Kilgore, the woman Willem de Kooning fell in love with later in life and who brought him great happiness over the years. De Kooning gave Woman and Child to Kilgore in the winter of 1977. They selected the work together: the lusciousness of the paint, the swirling imagery, and the deeply luminous colors appealed to Kilgore; and de Kooning was particularly pleased with this work: "That's a very good one," he said. Famously critical of his own work, this comment provides a ringing endorsement of this particular example of his new style of Women painting.
Kilgore first met de Kooning at a dinner party held by mutual friends in Bridgehampton on New York's Long Island. During the evening Kilgore, known as Mimi to her friends, found herself sitting next to de Kooning. She was in her thirties and he, in his sixties, but despite the age difference she was immediately captivated by him, "I was sort of transfixed...I think I was unaware of anything else going on. And we just talked, looking straight at each other for a long, long time. And then he was leaving...and he said, 'Am I ever going to see you again? You know, I don't drive a car. Do you ride a bicycle? ... We could take a bike ride maybe.'" (E. Kilgore, quoted in M. Stevens and A. Swan, de Kooning: An American Master, New York, 2007, p. 536). The pair met a couple of days later on bicycles and their rendezvous blossomed into one of the most important relationships of de Kooning's life.
De Kooning later admitted that he fell in love with Kilgore during one of their earliest meetings, but Kilgore hesitated at first. "I was fascinated. I was attracted," she said. "But whether or not I had fallen in love at that point is hard for me to say" (Ibid.). De Kooning persisted despite Kilgore's initial reticence and soon they were spending more time together. At summer's end, Mimi returned to her Houston home, and she and de Kooning continued their relationship in a series of long and impassioned letters. In one, he wrote poetically expressing how much she had affected his life: "The Egyptians named the painter the maker of outlines. Day after day I see you in from of me. Even if I closeted you away I see your beautiful face. I see you in all other women. Your outlines are in my heart. The more I see beautiful women, other women on television and advertisements; I mean they are just photographed -- I see you in all of them. And when one of them is in slow motion swaying her dark hair, in my heart I know it's you ..." (Ibid, p. 541).

Over time, de Kooning's relationship with Kilgore only seemed to grow stronger, despite, on occasion, spending months at a time apart, she in Texas and he on Long Island. One of the highlights occurred in 1972 when they were in Venice together for the Biennale. After the hustle and bustle of visiting the pavilions, they were strolling leisurely through the city and came upon the magnificent baroque church of Santa Maria del Giglio. Together, amongst the sculptures of angels they felt special, singled out and it was there that de Kooning endearingly called Mimi, "Santa Emilia."

De Kooning and Kilgore became increasingly close; he even asked her to marry him in 1975, but she hesitated, realizing that time apart was one of the things that made their relationship so successful. They continued to see each other during summers in East Hampton and periodically during the year. When they were apart, de Kooning continued to write long, romantic letters inundating her with declarations of love, "I dedicate all my paintings to you" he once wrote. Kilgore was a constant figure in his life. She would continue to visit him as much as possible, even when his health declined.
De Kooning's depictions of women are among the most significant works of the Post-War period. De Kooning applied the paint with physicality, gestural sweeps, playing with a medium that seemed infinitely pliable in de Kooning's masterful hand. All this powerfully evokes the artist's own sensual and sexually charged response to women, their bodies, skin and features. Unlike his more frightening, even grotesque 1950's Woman paintings, this work depicts women more softly, but without sacrificing its expressiveness. The pink tones that abound in Woman and Child are prompted by benevolent warmth and affection.

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