WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997)
WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997)
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PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT THE DINA AND RAPHAEL RECANATI FAMILY FOUNDATION
WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997)

Untitled

Details
WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997)
Untitled
signed ‘de Kooning’ (on the stretcher)
oil on paper mounted on canvas
41 3/8 x 30 in. (104.9 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1977.
Provenance
Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York
Exhibited
London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Paintings and Sculpture 1971-1983, November 1984-January 1985, n.p., no. 10 (illustrated).
New York, Xavier Fourcade Inc., Art Against AIDS, for the benefit of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), June-December 1987, p. 97 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“The seventies paintings offer a glimpse into a rare moment, when an artist finds the courage to change his entire approach to painting, a complete shift, and transform it so successfully that he creates a body of whose resonance has only grown stronger with the passage of time.(M. Bray, “Willem de Kooning: Paintings 1975-1978,” New York, 2006).
Willem de Kooning’s 1977 painting Untitled is an intimate arrangement of gestural and expressive movement, an example of the artist’s early explorations with layering of active brushwork to manifest a fresh, emotive energy. Frequent returns to the present example reveal more and more layers of pigment and texture to be discovered. The artist starts by filling the off-white paper – mounted onto a 41 x 30 inch canvas – with moments of primary color, seeming almost as if he has stamped them onto the surface. Though this initial surface is largely concealed by subsequent layers of paint, delicate moments of the primary foundation continue to appear periodically throughout the work. de Kooning continues to actively layer strokes of paint, giving the work a sense of fluidity, helping the viewer’s eye move through the piece in a rhythmic manner. The layers of white and soft peach compliment the vibrancy of the colors and brushstrokes that lie below. de Kooning captures an enamoring composition that balances between a quiet calm and a boisterous array of black and green brushstrokes, reminding the viewer of the constant movement within de Kooning’s working method. This combination of both gentle brushstrokes and use of vibrant colors add dimension to the piece. The more one looks at this work, the more immersed one feels into the process of making, and the world that this painting creates, a relic of de Kooning’s internal world and the external environments that inspired it.
In 1975, after a sabbatical from creating his masterful abstract paintings and a pivot to focus on creating sculptures, Willem de Kooning returned to the world of painting with newfound confidence and passion. Following his move to East Hampton, he began to live a life surrounded by luscious landscapes. Like many great artists before him, the present lot harkening back to the work of Monet and the Impressionists, he found inspiration in this beautiful environment and transformed his vision into captivating abstract paintings. de Kooning paints fearlessly and with a unique freedom, producing a high output of volume during this time without hesitation. He explained, “I made those paintings one after the other, no trouble at all. I couldn’t miss. It’s a nice feeling. It’s strange. It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose. But when he walks away with the dough, he knows he can’t do that again. Because then it gets self-conscious. I wasn’t self-conscious. I just did it” (D. Sylvester, “Willem de Kooning Paintings”, pp. 197). de Kooning’s interest in the concept of light, water, reflection, and movement began to grow, influenced by his immersion in this new and beautiful environment. He successfully articulated this imagery through his use of color and form. While Untitled is most recognizable as an example of the artist’s famed work in abstraction, here de Kooning also suggests his proclivity for the figurative through the natural imagery he was inspired by.
Like many other works de Kooning painted during this time, Untitled exhibits his strong skill and powerful techniques in a new and enamoring way. Not only is this evidenced by the proliferation of work he produced between 1975 and 1978, with 1977 specifically being a major highpoint in his career, but through his experimentation, which led to successful and immensely complex pieces. de Kooning combined his recurring motifs of the figure and the East Hampton landscape to create works of art that reflected an appreciation for human anatomy and nature. In the absence of form, he uses color to suggest the figurative, employing the forest greens and sky blues of a landscape along with the fleshy browns and nudes pinks of human skin. Furthermore, de Kooning was skilled in creating the texture and essence that a landscape or seascape might encompass. He thinned his oil paints with water to create a wash of color that he would methodically apply and remove in a complex series of layering to evoke the effect of fluidity on the surface of the paper. And in using his hands to smear paint around the surface of his work, de Kooning creates an organized chaos that reflects his newfound freedom within the world of painting.
de Kooning’s 1977 Untitled is a pristine example of the artist’s innovations during a period in which great upheavals in his working method led to his growth an ultimate acclaim as a renowned Post War artist. His outlook changed over time, inspiring new fascinating works, expressing in 1976, “When I moved into this house, everything seemed self-evident. The space, the light, the trees – I just accepted it without thinking about it much. Now, I look around with new eyes. I think it’s all a kind of miracle” (D. Sylvester, “Willem de Kooning Paintings”, pp. 197). In the present example, Willem de Kooning proves himself as the champion of the paintbrush, freely yet intentionally positioning each stroke down in a way that creates cohesive movement across the whole surface.
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