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Elaine de Kooning Artworks

American Art Critic and Painter

Elaine de Kooning Photo
Born: March 12, 1918
Brooklyn, New York
Died: February 1, 1989
Southampton, New York

Progression of Art

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.

Oil on masonite - The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Fairfield Porter #1 (1954)

Fairfield Porter #1

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.

Oil on canvas - Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection

Sunday Afternoon (1957)

Sunday Afternoon

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.

Oil on masonite - Ciba-Geigy Corporation, New York

John F. Kennedy (1963)

John F. Kennedy

When de Kooning traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida, to paint Kennedy's portrait, she commented that the president was difficult to sketch due to his "extreme restlessness..he read papers, talked on the phone, jotted down notes, crossed and uncrossed his legs, shifted from one arm of the chair to the other.." Upon returning to New York City, de Kooning worked tirelessly for nearly a year, sketching and re-sketching Kennedy based on her original renderings, as well as from hundreds of newspaper clippings and other images. Evidently awed by the task at hand, de Kooning's final product is a lean, vertical portrait with traditional dimensions, her gestural rhythms evoking the restlessness of her subject.

Oil on canvas - The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Bacchus #3 (1978)

Bacchus #3

During a visit to Paris in 1976, de Kooning saw a 19th-century Bacchus-inspired sculpture in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and upon returning to her temporary studio in Athens, Georgia, she subsequently began a series of large paintings based on Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and intoxication, and often equated with the Greek Dionysus. These paintings marked a brief return for de Kooning to the more traditional vertical canvas, but it was the first time she ever used acrylic paint.

Acrylic and charcoal on canvas - National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.

Cave #54, Sand Wall (1985)

Cave #54, Sand Wall

In the early 1980s Elaine de Kooning visited a series of Paleolithic caves near Lascaux, France, as well as caves in Spain, Egypt and Kenya. Inspired by what she witnessed inside these caves, de Kooning began her Cave Painting series, which included this 1985 painting. Throughout her career, de Kooning's progression of work was anything but predictable. She often experimented with new materials and varying shades of color and tone, but the one mainstay was her consistent, though subtle, use of abstraction. Cave #54 also reinforces de Kooning's comment that "inspiration is indispensable in my work." In this regard, Elaine de Kooning is one of only a few abstractionists who spoke openly about what directly inspired her work.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

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The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-1936)

Franz Kline: Black Reflection (1956)

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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]. .
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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