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Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Property from the Collection of Lee V. Eastman
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Untitled #10

Details
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Untitled #10
signed 'de Kooning' (upper left)
gouache, charcoal, oil and graphite on paper mounted to canvas
15¾ x 22½ in. (40 x 57.2 cm.)
Painted in 1957-1958.
Provenance
Collection of the artist
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1975
Literature
H. Rosenberg, de Kooning, New York, 1974, p. 9, pl. 128 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

By 1956 de Kooning was firmly established in the modernist canon and exposed to international fame. He was at the apex of the New York art world, the genius alone at the top after Pollock's sudden death that same year. Also in 1956 De Kooning's newly abstract paintings in the exhibition 7 Americans at Sidney Janis Gallery, were hailed as a critical and commercial success. De Kooning's shift to abstraction from his figurative Woman series was considered a bold departure, and his move into pure abstraction aligned with the ethos of the time. In 1958, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an ambitious international show, The New American Painting, that toured the world, proselytizing the new dominant movement of Abstract Expressionism, which included works by de Kooning as well as by others as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline. In 1957 de Kooning painted such monumental abstractions such as Bolton Landing and Ruth's Zowie, classic examples of Abstract Expressionism. It is this context from which Untitled #10 was created; the work is resolutely abstract, but not non-objective, and filled with the bravura brushstrokes bristling with emotion.

Untitled #10, is a fragment of the female figure that has been enlarged and cropped so that it becomes an abstract image. The original source is only obliquely referenced and as a result, new interpretations emerge. De Kooning by now had created shorthand for the woman-two parallel curves representing a pair of drawn knees, which in turn echo the curve of the woman's breasts. Furthermore, in the claustrophobic space of Untitled #10, one can anticipate the merging of the figure and environment, which the artist brilliantly explores in the next decade.

What is truly remarkable about this work is how much of de Kooning's creative process is plainly visible. It is a veritable record of his pictorial decisions regarding the structure, composition, feel and tone of the resulting picture. There is an incredible amount of active drawing underneath the paint. In 1951, Thomas Hess observed that de Kooning's drawing is predicated upon the act of destruction as the means of creating new imagery: "He made a few strokes, then almost instinctively, it seemed to me, turned the pencil around and began to go over the graphite marks with the eraser. Not to rub out the lines, but to move them, push them across the paper, turn them into planes. The method to destroy (erase) was being used as the means to create...." (T. Hess, De Kooning Drawings, Greenwich, 1972, p. 16.) The underdrawing's sweeping lines, rubbed cancellations, and shifting planes attest to de Kooning's preference for a dialectical approach, of constantly pitting one state of being with its opposite. The drawing also acts as a counterbalance to the seemingly spontaneous and improvised appearance of the painted brushstrokes. A special kind of translucency is achieved by the various layers of charcoal and paint, and results in a shimmering depth of surface.

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