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Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Property from the Pincus Family Foundation
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Seated Woman

Details
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Seated Woman
incised with signature, number and date 'de Kooning SC. (c) 1969-80 2/9' (on the reverse)
bronze
26¾ x 38 x 21 in. (67.9 x 96.5 x 53.3 cm.)
Conceived in 1969 and cast circa 1980s. This work is number two from an edition of nine plus two artist's proofs.
Provenance
Xavier Fourcade, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
Literature
J. Hobhouse, The Bride Stripped Bare: The Artist and the Nude in the Twentieth Century, New York, 1988, p. 258, no. 232 (another example illustrated in color).
Matthew Marks Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Sculpture, 1996, New York, p. 62, no. 28 (another example illustrated).
H. Cotter, "Unfurling a Life of Creative Exuberance," The New York Times, 16 September 2011, C28 (another example illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Xavier Fourcade, Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture: Brancusi to Lichtenstein, February-April 1978 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
San Francisco, Fuller Goldeen Gallery, Casting: A Survey of Cast Metal Sculpture, 1982 (another example exhibited).
New York, Xavier Fourcade, Willem de Kooning: The Complete Sculpture 1969-1981, May-June 1983.
Cologne, Joseph-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Willem de Kooning: Skulpturen, September-October 1983, pp. 80-81, no. 24 (another example exhibited). New York, Xavier Fourcade, Willem de Kooning: New Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, 1984 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Fort Collins, Colorado State University, Willem de Kooning: Recent Works, March 1984 (another example exhibited).
Paris, Galerie Templon, de Kooning, June-July 1984 (another example exhibited).
Katonah Gallery, Transformations, August-October 1984, no. 1 (another example illustrated).
Dusseldorf, Galerie Hans Strelow, de Kooning: Bilder, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, September-October 1984 (another example exhibited).
Milan, Studio Marconi, de Kooning: dipinti, disegni, sculture, March-April 1985, p. 57 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Lincoln, University of Nebraska, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Des Moines Arts Center, Contemporary Bronze: Six in the Figural Tradition: Willem de Kooning, Stephen deStaebler, Robert Graham, Manuel Neri, George Segal, Joe Shapiro, November 1985-June 1986, p. 10 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
University Park, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, Collecting with a Passion: The David and Gerry Pincus Collection, August-January 1994, pp. 3 and 10 (illustrated).
New York, Matthew Marks Gallery and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, willem de Kooning: Drawings and Sculpture, October-December 1998 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, 20th Century Sculpture, April-May 2003, pl. 37 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, de Kooning: A Retrospective, September 2011-January 2012, p. 417, no. 165 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Willem de Kooning's Seated Woman is a rare and important work from a small group of thirteen sculptures that the artist produced while living in Spoleto, Italy during the summer of 1969. In Seated Woman, one feels the power of de Kooning's hand writ large, as every crease and indentation that resulted from his working process is amplified. The result displays the same visceral, fleshy sense of the figure as that of de Kooning's best Woman paintings. Grace Glueck reviewed one of the first exhibitions of the sculptures in 1972, writing, "Seldom has 3-D work so faithfully mirrored that on canvas -- his two nearly life-size bronzes of a man and a woman, with their gnarled, turbulent surfaces full of movement, could have been plucked from the artist's paintings and dipped in metal" (G. Glueck, quoted in "Previews: Exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery," Art in America, vol. 60, September-October 1972, p. 121).

De Kooning relished working in clay as it allowed him the freedom to cease work on an individual sculpture, cover it with a damp cloth, and come back to it again. The technique was similar to the way that de Kooning would cover his thickly-pigmented canvases with newspaper to prevent them from drying so that he could work and re-work the image until it satisfied him. He employed this technique extensively in the Woman paintings, and he applies the same process to Seated Woman. The process was slow and laborious. De Kooning worked on the clay figures every day during the summer of 1969, and then would take a leisurely walk through the streets of Rome. De Kooning often worked with his eyes closed, as if conjuring the figure magically from the raw material (he was also working on a series of "blind drawings" at this time). He seemingly pulled the figure from the clay itself, seeking to convey a sense of the figure rather than a direct copying from nature.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Rome and its environs provided the impetus for de Kooning's foray into sculpture, with its rich artistic heritage and sculptural masterworks literally lining the streets. Specifically, de Kooning was introduced to the idea by an old friend from his WPA days, the sculptor Herzl Emanuel, who owned a foundry and provided ample studio space for de Kooning's work. That de Kooning would begin by sculpting a woman, especially a seated figure, is also telling; one of de Kooning's earliest and best paintings is Seated Woman, circa 1940 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), which also bears striking resemblance to the Pompeian murals that de Kooning saw in the Metropolitan Museum when he first moved to New York.

Just as de Kooning's Woman paintings were compared to cycladic idols and prehistoric fertility figures, there is an obvious element of the primordial within these sculptural works. Seated Woman may attempt to mimic the refined seated posture of a well-composed portrait, but de Kooning's handling of the clay recalls something more visceral and earth-bound. Limbs splayed, its torso mottled and squeezed, the work has a crude aspect to it that de Kooning must have enjoyed. As a material, clay comes from the earth, and de Kooning must have relished the connection it gave him to the primordial ooze that provided the very basis of life itself. Biblical allusions are redolent, as is the work of another Italian artist, Lucio Fontana and his "Natura" series. The work displays the same mottled consistency of a Giacometti and evokes the sense of realism embodied in Rodin and Degas. Contemporary influences abound, too, like the work of Viennese artist Franz West.

By the end of de Kooning's Italian holiday, thirteen sculptures were selected for casting and sent to New York after de Kooning had returned home. The sculptor Henry Moore, who was in New York at that time for an exhibition of his work, suggested that de Kooning consider enlarging the work to monumental scale. Seated Woman was the first sculpture that de Kooning made in collaboration with the Modern Art Foundry in Queens, New York; in 1980, the work was cast in two sizes - a mid-size (equal to those made at the Modern Art Foundry) and a new, monumental scale -- in collaboration with the Tallix Foundry in Peekskill, New York.

As William Tucker wrote, "De Kooning is the latest and I suppose the last of the series of great painters whose occasional work in three dimensions has enriched and even transformed the sculpture of the modern period. As with Daumier, Degas, and Picasso, de Kooning's talent is essentially linear: the figure imaged in painting calls out for its embodiment in sculpture" (W. Tucker, quoted in Willem de Kooning: Sculpture, New York, 1996, p. 45).

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