Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Important Drawings from the Collection of Duncan MacGuigan
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)


Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
graphite on paper
12 x 9½ in. (30.5 x 24.2 cm.)
Drawn in 1951.
Collection of Elaine de Kooning, New York
Allan Stone, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
T. Hess, Willem de Kooning Drawings, New York, 1959, p. 144, no. a53 (illustrated).
H. Rosenberg, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1974, pl. 96 (illustrated).
American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978, p. 175, fig. 26 (illustrated).
Caracas, Museo de Bellas Arte; Bogotà, Museo de Arte Moderno; Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno; São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo; Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janiero, Curatro maestros contemporàneos: Giacometti, Dubuffet, de Kooning, Bacon, April-December 1973 (organized by the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art).
Minneapolis, The Walker Art Center; Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, de Kooning: Drawings/Sculptures, March-April 1974, no. 49.
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Willem de Kooning 1941-1959, October-November 1974, pl. 11 (illustrated).
Caracas, Museo de Bellas Arte; Bogotà, Museo de Arte Moderno; Mexico Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hayden Gallery, Drawings by Five Abstract Expressionist Painters: Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, February-March 1975, no. 23.
New York, The CDS Gallery, The Irascibles, February 1988.RNew York, Barbara Mathes Gallery, de Kooning Works on Paper, October-December 1993
New York, C&M Arts, de Kooning: The Woman Works on Paper 1947-1954, September-November 1995, no. 11 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Willem de Kooning: Tracing the Figure, February 2002-January 2003, pl. 42 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Willem de Kooning was singular among the Abstract Expressionists for his recurrent dialogue with human form. Throughout his career he experimented with the human figure focusing on anatomical fragmentation and spatial ambiguity to suggest the fleeting nature of the individual. For de Kooning, the figure was often a point of departure for his forays into abstraction, obsessively and tentatively probing every encounter at their nexus. Woman, executed in 1951 is one of a series of outstanding drawings that relate to de Kooning's great masterpiece of his celebrated Woman series, Woman I in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Speaking of these Women, de Kooning himself stated, that they "had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all those idols.I think it had to do with the idea of the idol, the oracle, and above all the hilariousness of it" (cited in J. Zilczer, Willem de Kooning from the Hirschorn Museum Collection, New York, 1993, p. 47). Channeling archaic sculpture, Byzantine icons and African tribal art into his vertically encased, stiffly posed, rigidly frontal nudes, de Kooning was attempting in these works to create archetypes of a modern era-- mixing the Western 'high art' tradition of the female nude with magazine cutouts and pin-ups gleaned from Pop culture. It was perhaps the "hilariousness" of these images that he intended to convey through their most distinctive, consistent and disturbing feature--wide grinning mouths and barred, fang-like teeth that suggest a carnivorous appetite if not even the threat of castration.

Drawing was integral to de Kooning's working methods, as it facilitated the Surrealist technique of automatism that was widely used among the New York School. De Kooning was far more apt to unleash a fluid, immediate free-associative process in this medium, translating the serendipitous accidents achieved in drawing into the consciously deliberated and arduously revised realm of paintings. He often used drawings as templates for his paintings. Indeed, Woman I (1950-52), arguably one the most iconic works of de Kooning's oeuvre, owes much to the two life-size drawings that preceded them and the hundreds of drawings that were created during its fraught, embattled, two-year creation. Of this dynamic, Thomas Hess stated, "In two years of work on one rectangle of canvas, Woman I was completed and then painted out literally hundreds of times. De Kooning paints fast and could cover the whole surface in a matter of hours. But then would follow weeks of analysis, dissection, drawing sections of the figure, moving the drawing to overlay another area."

The present drawing evinces many of the salient characteristics of de Kooning's Women paintings, but it is also a fully conceived work in its own right. The centrally positioned figure fully occupies the vertical space and suggests a monumental presence. Linear elements are at once allusive of rounded volumetric forms and geometric flat shapes. For instance, the semi-circular curves suggest the weight and volume of breasts but also read as organic curves that formally play off the geometric elements in the work. One such element, a rectangle on the upper right, suggests a window and alludes to the Renaissance conception of painting as a "window to world." De Kooning subverts this idea by eschewing perspective and creating a work that deliberately confuses spatial relations. Sketchily rendered to suggest a "glimpse," the work also conveys a semi-automatic process at work. The latter is further evinced in the red splatters on the lower half of the drawing, which suggests the integration of accidental incident. Relieving the otherwise austere charcoal drawing of bright hints of color, the red drops allude to blood--menstrual blood, the blood from castration and the artist's own blood shed over the struggle of creation. Emerging tentatively from amorphous doodles the figure hovers on the cusp of being born and becomes a metaphor for the creative process itself. Indeed, grinning widely, it triumphs over its creator and implied male viewer.

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