Untitled is a revisitation of the door series executed several years earlier in the 1960s when de Kooning used wooden doors as painting supports that were originally intended for his new studio in East Hampton. On these doors, de Kooning painted single figured women. The vertical structure of the door lent itself to the upright pose of the female figure; she is frontally positioned and usually standing, with her arms and legs jutting straight out, as if she is jumping in the air. Or in another scenario, she seems to be floating in a pool of water, with her limbs outstretched in mid-stroke. The ambiguous perspective of the paintings, whether it is a frontal or aerial view, is a prominent feature of de Kooning's door series. In the 1970s the figure of the woman becomes even more abstract; while she appears spectral, her corporal presence is still very much in evidence.
In an interview with David Sylvester in 1969, de Kooning described his preference for concrete reality, and how momentary experiences, like a glimpse of a woman, or a view, can trigger an array of impulses in his painting.:
"Sylvester: You like the forms to be identifiable?
De Kooning: Well, they ought to have an emotion of a concrete experience. I mean, like I am very happy to see that grass is green. At one time, it was very daring to make a figure red or blue: I think now it is just as daring to make it flesh-colored.
Content, if you want to say, is a glimpse of something, an encounter, you know, like a flash. Then I could sustain this thing all the time because it could change all the time; she could almost get upside down, or not be there, or come back again, she could be any size. Because this content could take care of almost anything that could happen, you know; and I still have it now from some fleeting thing--like when one passes something" (D. Sylvester, "Interview with de Kooning," Ramparts, vol. 7, no. 71, 1969 reprinted in eds., David and Cecile Shapiro, Abstract Expressionism: A Critical Record, New York, 1990, p. 227).
Upon arrival in East Hampton in 1963 and throughout the decade, de Kooning returned to the woman in his work and continued his obsessive reworking of the figure, which ultimately resulted in the transformation of her body as manifestation of natural phenomena. Supreme fluency with organic forms is evident in de Kooning's paintings such as Untitled. His shorthand for the female anatomy is particularly noticeable in the upward swerve of the arms, the curves of the breasts and hips, and in the wriggled line of the legs. The fleshy pinks of the woman's body reference the classical nudes of Rubens and the Rococo painters. In her 1965 essay, Dore Ashton observed, "Recently, de Kooning has taken up the woman again, this time in a relaxed, often rococo manner. Boucher, Tiepolo and a host of sensualist painters who celebrated the splendors of the flesh, echo through these largely improvisational works" (D. Ashton, "Willem de Kooning" reprinted in Ibid, p. 236). These new women of the 1960s and 1970s no longer appear brittle, full of sharp angles and vertiginous planes, but rather, they are ample, aqueous, and possess a lush beauty. In Untitled the bodily contours are sensuous and inspire a feeling of plentitude. The coexistence between the figure and landscape is an idyllic one, where abundant flesh merges with the luxuriant impasto of oil paint.
In Untitled, the serpentine brushwork overwhelms the figure and what is left are swelling currents of flesh-colored impasto. The figure appears to be underwater and what the viewer sees is the essential shape of her body camouflaged and shifting in the swirling water. Flourishes of paint foam and splash like the ocean waves striking the shore. De Kooning transformed the age-old theme of the bather in western painting by personifying the female figure as a force of nature.