De Kooning's paintings from the 1940s exemplify the concept of "no-environment," which he coined to denote a sense of concrete space without providing the specifics of an actual place in his paintings. The modern city fosters a sense of anonymity and individuals can feel as if they are alone because of the city's emphasis on the mass collective. "No-environment -the metaphysical and social alienation of man from society and the nightmares of urbanization have been a preoccupation of modern writers from Marx and Dostoyevsky to Heidegger and Celine. For de Kooning, however, 'no-environment' is a metaphysical concept with physical materiality -with flesh and cement" (T. Hess, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1959, p. 18).
Untitled (Reclining Figure) is filled with unsettling pictorial ambiguity. Spacially, one is uncertain whether it is an exterior or interior scene. What is shown is a remnant of an architectural setting with a wall and floor which contains a figure, presumably a woman. She reclines in the foreground, where her form consumes the space; sinuous limbs push against the confines of the picture plane and the straight lines of the architectural surroundings. Perspective has been nearly eliminated by the scale of the figure as well as by the flat application of paint.
Painted circa 1947, Untitled (Reclining Figure) is from a groundbreaking period in the artist's career, during which he develops his own vernacular. Thomas Hess wrote:
"In de Kooning's works of 1945-1956, shapes do not meet or overlap or rest apart as planes; rather there is a leap from shape to shape; the 'passages' look technically 'impossible.' This is a concept which comes from collages, where the eye moves from one material to another in similar impossible bounds. De Kooning often paints 'jumps' by putting a drawing into a work-in-progress, sometimes painting over part of it and then removing it, using it as a mask or template, sometimes leaving it in the picture...De Kooning also draws in and on his painting. He will trace a secion of a work with charcoal on wrapping paper in order to test a form in several positions, or to keep a record of a part of the painting that is about to be wiped out. He also draws with heavy charcoal directly onto the paint, and often there are traces of it in the finished work...adding an ambiguity of tentative indications that might or might not be replaced by strokes of the brush" (T. Hess, Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1968, pp. 47, 50). Untitled (Reclining Figure) is a fascinating window into de Kooning's working methods and his creation of a dynamic new interpretation of pictorial space.