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The Collection of Norman & Lyn Lear

Man in Wainscott

Man in Wainscott
signed 'de Kooning' (lower left)
oil on paper and newsprint collage mounted on canvas
60 x 48 ¼ in. (152.4 x 122.6 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Solomon & Co. Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981
J. Russell, “Gallery View; Delights, Surprises and Gaps,” New York Times, 8 March 1981, p. 31.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, America, America, October-December 1976, n.p., no. 28 (illustrated; titled Man in Waynscott).
Roslyn, Nassau County Museum, The Abstract Expressionists and Their Precursors, January-March 1981, pp. 30 and 32, fig. 18 (illustrated on p. 32 and the front cover; titled Man in Waynscott).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Man in Wainscott is testament to Willem de Kooning’s lifelong investigation into the intersection between the physical properties of paint and notions of figural representation. One of the artist’s famed ‘figures in a landscape,’ this 1969 painting exemplifies the “rich sensually textured fashion” in which de Kooning applied his paint, resulting in “…a painted world with a powerful, immediate impact, an arena to work out his psychological and critical being. An Action Painter, his work is a testimony to ‘I Am’ (C. Schwartz, “Willem de Kooning”, The Abstract Expressionists and their Precursors, New York, 1981, p. 30).

Rendered on a majestic scale, the present example is a coalescing of active brushwork and saturated, cascading color. The lower third is built up from white, cream, light blue, and a variety of other tones into a form that brings our eyes toward the central element, where a forceful dash of red appears. Amidst the highly charged brushwork, a figure emerges in true de Kooning fashion. Never one to completely give up on representation in the face of Abstract Expressionism, de Kooning in the 1960s and 1970s saw a marked evolution of his ability to meld painterly passages with barely discernable figures. Here, the titular man only becomes visible because of a central area that resembles a voluminous blond beard topped with two dark-rimmed eyes. Nearly lost within the maelstrom of painted paper and turbulent marks, this visage anchors the work and helps the viewer to begin separating the person from the green, yellow, and gray of the lush landscape behind him.

Man in Wainscott is particularly notable for its material composition and its inclusion of collaged elements. De Kooning worked in a variety of methods, but drawings, sketches, and the use of different preparatory elements were key to his investigative process. This example shows the result of the painter peeling away paint with paper and newsprint to create impressions of his active brushstrokes before he disguised them on the surface of the canvas. Thomas B. Hess, a long-time friend, and champion of de Kooning’s work, described the meticulous studio practice when he wrote, “The image starts in drawings... [and then his graphic]... procedures of combining and recombining images also take place within the acts of painting. Part way through a picture he may stop work, apply a sheet of tracing or newspaper to the wet surface, press gently down, and pull the sheet off, taking a reverse impression or monotype of the painting. De Kooning studies the monotype as he continues with the canvas; he may cut the print apart or keep it to preserve a stage of development that may be useful for the work in progress or a future work” (T. Hess, “In De Kooning’s Studio”, Vogue, New York, April 1978, pp. 236-237). Extracting visual information from process, de Kooning was able to glean inspiration from elements that may not have been right for the final image initially but found their place within the larger compositional structure.

In the mid-1950s, de Kooning moved away from the bustle of New York City in favor of the more idyllic setting of East Hampton on Long Island and its neighboring hamlet of Wainscott. Here, he was influenced by the natural world, especially the nearby water and the open spaces not afforded to denizens of a metropolis. Man in Wainscott was painted during this especially productive era and followed the same formulations that the artist worked on with his ‘Woman in Landscape’ theme which was revitalized in the late 1960s and early 1970s. About these works, his biographers Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan surmised, “De Kooning redefined the pastoral tradition in an original way. He found a means, at last, to unite the figure and the landscape into an ideal image that he could believe in. … He presented the figures in the landscape—rather than from without. He was not the outsider who surveys the ideal scene from afar. He had passed through the looking glass; he created, as he put it, ‘a feeling of being on the other side of nature’” (M. Stevens and A. Swan, de Kooning: An American Master, 2004, p. 571). Instead of placing the subject as a focal point in some bucolic backdrop, the person and place were amalgamated into a singular abstraction that was at once recognizable and also a demonstrable record of de Kooning’s dynamic process.

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