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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

Artworks by Elaine de Kooning

The below artworks are the most important by Elaine de Kooning - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

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)

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.

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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.

John F. Kennedy (1963)

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.

Bacchus #3 (1978)

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.

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Cave #54, Sand Wall (1985)

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.

Related Artists and Major Works

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

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

Artist: Arshile Gorky (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Gorky's early work The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-36), for which he did many drawings and painted versions, is a deeply personal composition that depicts the artist as a child with his mother, who died in his arms in 1919 following the Armenian Genocide. The treatment of the figures is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period paintings, evoking the same melancholic atmosphere through its palette, abstracted flatness and incompleteness. However, the more immediate source for the painting is a (frequently reproduced) photograph of the young Gorky with his mother taken in Armenia around 1912. Contrasting the painting with the original photograph is a satisfying lesson in the appreciation of modern art. Such changes from the photograph to the painting as the almost painfully negative space that evolves between the two figures, the boy's feet angling away from his mother, the emphasis on the eyes, and the expansion of the dark rectangle to create a sort of Madonna-like "cloth of honor" behind his mother's head (as well as many more subtle differences) all serve to communicate the emotional pain of the loss of his mother, whom he will never see or touch again, as well as to raise her to the status of immortal icon.

Black Reflection (1956)

Artist: Franz Kline (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Black Reflection is an example of Kline's early attempts at introducing color back into his works. The treatment of color in this composition could be related to the contemporary paintings of Willem de Kooning and Hans Hofmann. The focal point of this picture is the black shape that Kline previously employed in the Untitled composition of 1954. This fact further attests to the careful consideration the Action Painting artists devoted to the pictorial forms in their compositions.

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