Between the years of 1946-1949, Willem de Kooning executed his celebrated series of black and white canvases, of which many were exhibited in his first one-man show at the Egan Gallery in 1948. He continued the series, painted with Sapolin enamel on paper with equal confidence and energy until 1951. The present work, Untitled is one from this crucial series in the artist's career which was a benchmark in abstract expressionist action painting and "rival[ed] Pollock's canvases in their powerful formal organization and masterful improvisation" (D. Waldman, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1988, p. 77). In the Sapolin series, de Kooning's mastery of the medium is dazzling. "He worked with a linear brush, used by sign painters, theatrical painters and others...its extra long, flexible bristles are capable of bearing a heavy charge of paint, which can lay down flowing lines of continuous tonal weight. Overcharged, the brush can drop the paint in loose, thin runnels...de Kooning would then frequently scrape the line with a palette or putty knife" (P. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1983, p. 16).
Unitled is an intuitive, lyrical synthesis of line and shape and is an exercise in de Kooning's brilliant merging of surrealist chance-effect with specific imagery and formal composition. De Kooning felt that "even abstract shapes have likenesses" (T. Hess, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1959, p. 47) and the viewer can often recognize an object or figure within the picture. In the upper right quadrant of the composition is one of the artist's most frequently recognized images, the window. "The window's frame picks up the beat of the painting's quadrangle... The rectangle is cornered inside the painting to become the stabilizing anchor for the curving shapes. It is also the division between the space of indoors and outdoors. It is the window of a house seen from the outside and simultaneously, the window inside the room...Place swells to include all places. It is a concept which de Kooning once nicknamed, "no-environment" (Ibid, pp. 17-18).