"Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity. I do not think of inside or outside-or of art in general-as a situation of comfort...some painters, including myself, do not care what chair they are sitting on. It does not even have to be a comfortable one" (Willem de Kooning as quoted in T. Hess, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1968, p. 145).
Like many artistic epiphanies, Willem de Kooning's Door Paintings series came about as a result of a fortuitous accident. Disappointed that the doors he ordered for his new East Hampton studio were hollow rather than solid wood, the artist decided to use them as supports for a new series of works, which have fittingly become known as the Door Paintings. De Kooning concurrently created "transfer" works, which were made by applying newspapers or sheets of vellum to the wet surfaces of the Door Paintings and pulling them off--the present lot appears to be one of these works. All of the works in the series, including the seminal Woman, Sag Harbor in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (see fig. 1) are typified by violently painted passages of fleshy tones, highlighted with flashes of red, oranges and yellow.
Women were de Kooning's favorite subjects from the 1930's through 1954, but he mostly avoided them from 1955-1963 in favor of his big-brushed abstractions that referenced landscapes and topographical views. Seated Woman and the Door Paintings mark a return to the use of women as subject matter. As de Kooning noted, "I started all over again in the sense of painting those women I painted on Fourth Avenue and on Tenth Street (in 1950-55). I went back to it" (Willem de Kooning as quoted in J. Fox, Willem de Kooning's Door Cycle, Wellesley, 1995 unpaginated). One distinction between the two periods is that the Door Paintings incorporate figures into landscapes whereas the 1950's women suggested figures in interiors.
Although the paint quality is looser and more fluid than in the earlier Woman series, the concerns of the Door Paintings women and their critical receptions were essentially the same. They were alternately accused of possessing a beautiful abstracted sensuality, a monstrous and grotesque quality as well as a humorous parody of the classical ideal of feminine beauty--in the best of de Koonings Woman paintings, all three are equally and simultaneously true. "The door paintings exemplify de Kooning's ability to embrace opposites, to contradict, to synthesize as he summarizes his past, relinquishes it and sets a course for the years to come" (J. Fox, Willem de Kooning's Door Cycle, Wellesley, 1995, unpaginated).