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Elaine de Kooning

American Art Critic and Painter

Elaine de Kooning Photo
Born: March 12, 1918
Brooklyn, New York
Died: February 1, 1989
Southampton, New York
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Inspiration is indispensable to my work, but it is hard to come by. It is there or it is not; it is a gift of the gods.
Elaine de Kooning Signature

Summary of Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning was a prolific artist, art critic, portraitist, and teacher during the height of the Abstract Expressionists era and well beyond. Although her early career was overshadowed by that of Willem de Kooning, her husband, Elaine's artistic range, vast knowledge of media, and influence on fellow artists was undeniable. Many of her so-called pure abstract paintings were produced during the 1950s. Early in her career much of her work was composed of watercolors and still-lifes, and later much of her art fused abstraction with mythology, primitive imagery, and realism. Elaine de Kooning's work continues to receive increasing critical attention as she was, without question, one of the most important art teachers to have worked in the 20th century.

Key Ideas

Biography of Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning Photo

Elaine de Kooning was born Elaine Marie Catherine Fried in 1918 (although she would later claim her birth year was 1920), to Marie and Charles Frank Fried, a plant manager for the Bond Bread Company in Brooklyn, NY. She was the first of four children who were all raised in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. Elaine's younger sister, Marjorie, once recalled that their mother was not the most attentive and loving parent, but she did instill in her children a love for the arts, often taking them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to several Broadway shows.

Important Art by Elaine de Kooning

Self-Portrait (1946)

Self-Portrait (1946)

In the mid 1940s, Elaine and Willem were poorer than ever, and both were experiencing great difficulty in selling any work. In an effort to make money, de Kooning painted this realist self-portrait and sold it to her sister for a sum of $20, which she described at the time as "good money." The pseudo-abstract touches in this otherwise classical portrait are very much in the style of artist Fairfield Porter, who was a close friend of the de Koonings.

Fairfield Porter #1 (1954)

Fairfield Porter #1 (1954)

This portrait of Fairfield Porter, unlike her earlier self-portrait, indicates a greater sense of gestural abstraction, and even visual elements of what Harold Rosenberg called "Action Painting." Elaine de Kooning evidently took more risks with this portrait by pulling her subject closer into the foreground (confronting Porter's physical vulnerability, in a sense), yet abstracting his face in a similar manner to the surrounding background. The end result is subtly haunting, and is a stunning balance of color and shade.

Sunday Afternoon (1957)

Sunday Afternoon (1957)

Shortly after receiving her professorship at the University of New Mexico, her friend, poet Margaret Randall, escorted de Kooning to Juarez, Mexico to visit the bullfights. De Kooning was captivated by the movements and colors of her new surroundings. This abstracted portrait of a bull, structured by gestural waves rendered in the warm tones of a desert landscape, was also among some the very first horizontal canvases created by de Kooning.

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Elaine de Kooning Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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