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Woman on the Dune

Woman on the Dune
signed 'de Kooning' (lower right)
oil on paper mounted on canvas
48 x 54 3/8 in. (121.9 x 138.1 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1976
G. Drudi, De Kooning, Milan, 1972, n.p., no. 143 (illustrated).
H. Rosenberg, "Interview with Willem de Kooning," ARTnews, September 1972, p. 55 (illustrated).
H. Rosenberg, de Kooning, New York, 1973, p. 241, pl. 169 (illustrated).
L. Alloway, "De Kooning: Criticism and Art History," Artforum, vol. 13, no. 5, January 1975, p. 49 (illustrated).
G. Dupuis, "De Kooning - An Artist Reaching Out," Palm Beach Post, 13 December 1975, p. 17.
C. Hardy, "Datebook: Norton Gallery - Recent paintings, drawings and sculpture of Willem de Kooning...," Palm Beach Post, 23 January 1976, p. B2 (illustrated).
E. Lauter, "Homage to Anima: Some Psychological and Cultural Implications of Willem de Kooning's Images of Women," Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 59, no. 4, Winter 1976, p. 434.
R. Hughes, "Landscapes and the Bodies of Women," Horizon, February 1978, pp. 17 and 19 (illustrated).
D. L. Shirey, "De Kooning and the Island's Spell," New York Times, 5 February 1978, p. 14.
P. Selz, Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History, 1890-1980, New York, 1981, pp. 468-469, no. 1289 (illustrated).
D. Rosand, "Willem de Kooning: An American Master," Dialogue 67, January 1985, p. 54 (illustrated).
B. Hess, Willem de Kooning 1904-1997, Cologne, 2004, p. 69 (illustrated).
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, November-December 1967.
Paris, M. Knoedler & Company, June 1968, n.p., no. 6 (titled Femme sur la dune).
San Francisco Museum of Art, Untitled, 1968, November-December 1968, p. 16, no. 13 (titled Woman on the Dunes).
Berkeley, University of California, Powerhouse Gallery, de Kooning: The Recent Work, August-September 1969.
Baltimore Museum of Art, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, Sculpture and Works on Paper, August-September 1972.
Toronto, Pollock Gallery, de Kooning: Major Paintings, October-November 1974.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, La Ricerca Dell'Identita, October 1974-January 1975.
West Palm Beach, Norton Gallery of Art, De Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, 1967-1975, December 1975-February 1976, n.p., no. 1 (illustrated and illustrated on the front cover).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, February-April 1978, p. 45, no. 16 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Berlin, Akademie de Kunste and Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Willem de Kooning, December 1983-September 1984, pp. 128 and 211, no. 227 (New York, illustrated); p. 124 (Paris, illustrated).
Further Details
“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.” (M. Stevens and A. Swan, De Kooning: An American Master, New York, 2005, p. 571).

Celebrated for his unique form of painterly bravado and unfettered fusion of abstraction and figuration, Willem de Kooning is one of the giants of twentieth-century painting. Within his singular visual vocabulary, specific series like the Women and Abstract Landscapes illustrated central themes to which the artist returned time and again. Woman on the Dune is a pivotal canvas that illustrates these two cornerstones of de Kooning’s practice coming together in a joyous harmony. Painted in the late 1960s, just a few years after the artist had moved to Springs, Long Island to escape the bustle of city life, this work exemplifies a new evolution which was conspicuous for “forcefully composed paintings with ideas of less frontal or variously posed figures in a well-defined landscape space” (J. Cowart, “De Kooning Today,” de Kooning 1969 – 78, Gallery of Art, University of Northern Iowa, 1978, p. 15). Introducing new ideas about figures, space, and the interplay of color and light, de Kooning revitalized his output while creating decisive connections to the rest of his oeuvre.

A striking example of de Kooning’s later abstractions, Woman on the Dune roils with fleshy paint and a multitude of energetically colored brushstrokes. The middle of the work displays vivid blue, mottled yellow, pink, off-white, and gray passages pierced by dashes of vibrant crimson. These colorful forays dance and sway across the composition as they become records of the artist’s physical movement. Surrounded on all sides by washes of peach and tan, this tumultuous central form bears only a cursory resemblance to the female form. Rather, the artist simply hints at legs, arms, blonde hair, and ruby lips against the blue sky and sandy expanse of the titular dune. Drawing clues from de Kooning’s dynamic oeuvre, one is inclined to look for a visage amidst the paint. To this effect, he once noted, “Even abstract shapes must have a likeness” (W. de Kooning quoted in T. B. Hess, Willem de Kooning exh. cat. New York, MOMA, 1968, p. 47). At odds with his purely abstract contemporaries within the New York School, de Kooning’s forthright melding of painterly surface and nuanced representation long set him apart as a progressive force within the canon of his peers.

In 1953, de Kooning exhibited Woman I at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York along with five other Women paintings. Thus began his shocking, yet critically acclaimed exploration of the figure in conversation with Abstract Expressionism. Unlike cohorts such as Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, the Dutch-born de Kooning did not seek a complete divorce from representation. Instead, he worked to situate the figural tradition within a newly-theorized approach to painting, famously noting: “Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented. Never before in history had it taken such a place in painting” (W. de Kooning, quoted in “The Renaissance and Order,” in T. Hess, Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1968, p. 142). As much as the women offered a rudimentary structure to these canvases, it was as much about their presence as it was about the ferocious, gestural brushstrokes from which they emerged. By focusing on their brazen bodies and the physicality of paint simultaneously, de Kooning created a hybrid zone that bridged the gap between tradition and abstraction.

Woman on the Dune is an exemplary work as it returns again to the artist’s investigation of historical themes by placing the human figure in conversation with the landscape. Evolving outward from this time-tested subject, and with a new sense of space afforded by his relocation to Long Island in the 60s, de Kooning’s work began to breathe. Though emotional and full of energy, his brushwork here is more lyrical, vivid, and even somewhat seductive. This is in stark contrast to the frantic, almost claustrophobic canvases of the previous decade where the constant movement of New York made its way into each brushstroke. “De Kooning redefined the pastoral tradition in an original way,” offered his biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. “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, New York, 2005, p. 571). In the context of both his Women and Abstract Landscape series, this amalgam serves as a fitting culmination of the artist’s work up until that time.

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

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