Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Woman

Artist:
Willem de Kooning (American (born The Netherlands), Rotterdam 1904–1997 East Hampton, New York)
Date:
ca. 1952
Medium:
Oil, cut and pasted paper on cardboard
Dimensions:
14 3/4 x 11 5/8 in. (37.5 x 29.5 cm)
Classification:
Drawings
Credit Line:
From the Collection of Thomas B. Hess, Gift of the heirs of Thomas B. Hess, 1984
Accession Number:
1984.613.6
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Not on view
De Kooning made both figurative and abstract art at various points in his career, sometimes concurrently. Of nonfigurative work, he said, "even abstract shapes must have a likeness." In a legendary and emblematic exchange between de Kooning and the critic Clement Greenberg, the latter questioned whether a truly modern artist could justify figurative painting: "In today's world, it's impossible to paint a face." De Kooning's response: "That's right. And it's impossible not to."

Between 1950 and 1953, de Kooning made the series for which he is best known, the Women, and this painting from approximately 1952 is a fine example of the subject. The small scale of this painting on paper belies both the potency of the iconic image and the dramatic dynamism of the vigorous, gestural brushwork. De Kooning himself summed up the impulse in 1951: "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 art in general-as a situation of comfort." The image seems to assemble itself before our eyes-a palpable testimony to the process of its creation. Akin to other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning here rejects conventional notions of "finish" in painting. Every stroke is a visceral record of speed, energy, agitation, and tension. But the tensions are coupled with humor in equal measure. A garish woman, her hair a gaudy, flaming orange, stares out at the viewer, her oversized eyes having been incised into the wet paint with a pencil point to reinforce the effect. Her eye-like, prominent breasts stand as beacons in the very center of the sheet. Very few other body parts are as clearly delineated-instead, much of the figure merges into its indeterminate space, a suggestive jumble of strokes and color.

De Kooning incorporates collage elements, which intensifies the jarring effect of this blend of delineated and inchoate elements. Here, a bright red mouth has been taken from a cigarette ad in a magazine and affixed to the work. In an interview of 1963, the artist described its role: "First of all I felt everything ought to have a mouth. Maybe it was like a pun, maybe it's even sexual … it helped me immensely to have this real thing. I don't know why I did it with the mouth. Maybe the grin-it's rather like the Mesopotamian idols." The reference is to two Sumerian statues that were on view at the Metropolitan Museum in the 1940s and '50s. De Kooning was a regular visitor to the Museum, drawing inspiration at various points in his career from diverse sources in art history, from the Roman paintings of Boscoreale to portraits by Ingres and the Le Nain brothers.
Inscription: Signed (lower right): de KOONING
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Hess, New York (by 1968–her d. 1974); Thomas B. Hess, New York (1974–d. 1978); his heirs, New York (1978–84; their gift to MMA)

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "The Art of Assemblage," October 2–November 12, 1961, no. 126 (as "Study for Woman," 1950, lent by a private collection, New York).

Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts. "The Art of Assemblage," January 9–February 11, 1962, no. 126.

San Francisco Museum of Art. "The Art of Assemblage," March 5–April 15, 1962, no. 126.

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. "Willem de Kooning," September 19–November 17, 1968, no. 46 (as "Study for Woman," 1950, lent by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Hess, New York City).

London. Tate Gallery. "Willem de Kooning," December 5, 1968–January 26, 1969, no. 55 (as "Study for Woman," 1950, lent by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Hess, New York City).

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Willem de Kooning," March 6–April 27, 1969, no. 55.

Art Institute of Chicago. "Willem de Kooning," May 17–July 6, 1969, no. 55.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Willem de Kooning," July 29–September 14, 1969, no. 55.

New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture," December 15, 1983–February 26, 1984, no. 181 (as "Study for Woman," 1950, lent by a private collection).

Berlin. Akademie der Künste. "Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture," March 11–April 29, 1984, no. 181.

Paris. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou. "Willem de Kooning," June 26–September 24, 1984, unnumbered cat. (p. 88; as "Study for Woman," 1950, lent by a private collection).

Coral Gables, Fla. Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami. "Abstract Expressionism, Other Dimensions: An Introduction to Small Scale Painterly Abstraction in America, 1940-1965," October 26–December 3, 1989, no. 23 (dated 1950).

Chicago. Terra Museum of American Art. "Abstract Expressionism, Other Dimensions: An Introduction to Small Scale Painterly Abstraction in America, 1940-1965," January 23–March 11, 1990, no. 23.

New Brunswick, N. J. Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. "Abstract Expressionism, Other Dimensions: An Introduction to Small Scale Painterly Abstraction in America, 1940-1965," March 25–June 13, 1990, no. 23.

New York. Pace Gallery. "Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet: The Women," November 30, 1990–January 5, 1991, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 8; dated 1950).

Turin. Galleria Lingotto. "Arte Americana, 1930–1970," January 11–March 31, 1992, unnumbered cat. (p. 156; dated 1950).

Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "Abstract Expressionism, Works on Paper: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 26–April 4, 1993, no. 9 (dated 1950).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Abstract Expressionism, Works on Paper: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 4–September 12, 1993, extended to November 7, 1993, no. 9.

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. "Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper, Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 11–June 4, 1995, no. 26 (dated 1950).

New York. C&M Arts. "De Kooning: The Women, Works on Paper, 1947-1954," September 19–November 18, 1995, no. 5 (dated 1950).

Madrid. Fundación Juan March. "Expresionismo Abstracto: Obra Sobre Papel, Colección The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York," May 9–July 2, 2000, no. 27 (dated 1950).

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "Willem de Kooning: Tracing the Figure," February 10–April 28, 2002, no. 32 (dated 1950).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Abstract Expressionist Drawings," November 1, 2007–February 24, 2008, no catalogue.

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "De Kooning: A Retrospective," September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012, unnumbered cat. (pl. 81; dated 1950).

Thomas B. Hess. "De Kooning Paints a Picture." Art News 52 (March 1953), p. 66, ill. p. 31.

Thomas B. Hess. Willem de Kooning. New York, 1959, p. 21, states that the figure's mouth was cut out of a Camel cigarette advertisement.

Thomas B. Hess. Willem de Kooning. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London. New York, 1968, pp. 77, 162, no. 55, ill. pp. 78 (detail) and 83.

Gabriella Drudi. Willem de Kooning. Milan, 1972, p. 34, fig. 70 (color), calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950.

Thomas B. Hess. "Pinup and Icon." Art News Annual 38 (1972), pp. 228–29, ill. p. 222, calls it "Study for 'Woman'"; compares the figure's pose to that of Louis-François Bertin in Ingres' famous portrait (1832, Musée du Louvre, Paris).

Harold Rosenberg. De Kooning. New York, [1974], pl. 86, calls it "Study for 'Woman'" and dates it 1950.

John Russell. The Meanings of Modern Art. Vol. 10, America Redefined. New York, 1975, p. 25, fig. 38, calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950.

Sally Yard. "Willem de Kooning's Women." Arts Magazine 53 (November 1978), pp. 99–101, ill., calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950; notes the figure's "eye/breast" and traces the motif to Picasso's "Three Dancers" (1925, Tate Modern, London).

Charles F. Stuckey. "Bill de Kooning and Joe Christmas." Art in America 68 (March 1980), p. 76, fig. 11, calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950.

Robert Rosenblum in Willem de Kooning. Exh. cat., Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris, 1984, p. 11, ill. p. 88 (color), calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950.

Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1984–1985. New York, 1985, pp. 56–57, ill., calls it "Woman" and dates it 1950.

Lynne Catherine Cooke. "Willem de Kooning: 'A Slipping Glimpser'." PhD diss., Courtauld Institute, 1988, p. 525 n. 148, calls it "Study for Woman" and dates it 1950.

Diane Waldman. Willem de Kooning. New York, 1988, pp. 82, 85, pl. 63, dates it 1950.

Mildred Glimcher. Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet : The Women. Exh. cat., Pace Gallery. New York, 1990, p. 23, colorpl. 8, dates it 1950.

Robert Rosenblum in Willem de Kooning: An Exhibition of Paintings. Exh. cat., Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc. New York, 1990, unpaginated, dates it ca. 1950.

Stephen Polcari. Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience. Cambridge, 1991, p. 286, fig. 224, calls it "'Study' for Woman I" and dates it ca. 1950.

David Christos Cateforis. "Willem de Kooning's "Women" of the 1950s: A Critical History of Their Reception and Interpretation." PhD diss., Stanford University, 1991, pp. 99–100, fig. 7.

Lisa Mintz Messinger. Abstract Expressionism, Works on Paper: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., High Museum of Art, Atlanta. New York, 1992, pp. 18, 26, fig. 9 (color), calls this painting "one of the most lively and fully realized of de Kooning's small–scale Women"; suggests that comparisons with pencil drawings from 1951–52 support the possibility that this painting may have been created a year or two later than originally thought.

Holland Cotter. "Abstract Expressionism: The Lighter, Quieter Side." New York Times (June 4, 1993), p. C24.

Diane Waldman. Roy Lichtenstein. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York, 1993, pp. 49, 263, fig. 206 (color), dates it 1950.

David Anfam. "Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper. New York, Metropolitan Museum." Burlington Magazine 135 (September 1993), p. 658, fig. 58, dates it 1950.

Richard Shiff in Willem de Kooning: Paintings. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 39, fig. 7.

Marla Prather in Willem de Kooning: Paintings. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 102 n. 6, dates it 1950; identifies this painting as one titled "Study for Woman" in previous literature.

Lisa Messinger. Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper, Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 1995, pp. 52–53, no. 26, ill. (color).

Diane Waldman. De Kooning: The Women, Works on Paper 1947–1954. Exh. cat., C&M Arts. New York, 1995, unpaginated, colorpl. 5.

Judith L. Wolfe. "The Young Willem de Kooning: Early Life, Training and Work, 1904–1926." PhD diss., City University of New York, 1996, p. 577, fig. 315, dates it 1950.

Lisa M. Messinger. Expresionismo Abstracto: Obra Sobre Papel, Colección The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York. Exh. cat., Fundación Juan March. Madrid, 2000, p. 64, no. 27, ill. p. 69 (color).

Michael von Uchtrup. "Ray Johnson and the Road From BMC Into–and Out of–New York." Journal of Black Mountain College Studies. Vol. 1, no. 2, 2001, unpaginated, dates it 1950.

Enrique Juncosa in Willem de Kooning. Exh. cat., IVAM / Institut Valencia d'Art Modern. Valencia, 2001, p. 10.

Cornelia H. Butler in Willem de Kooning: Tracing the Figure. Exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Los Angeles, 2002, pp. 187–89, 195, pl. 32 and ill. p. 187 (color), dates it 1950.

Julia Blaut in James Rosenquist: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Menil Collection and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2003, pp. 26, 40 n. 86, fig. 36 (color), dates it 1950.

Estera Milman in An American Odyssey 1945/1980: Debating Modernism. Ed. Stephen C. Foster and Xosé Luis García Canido. Exh. cat., Círculo de Bellas Artes. Madrid, 2004, pp. 226–27, calls it "Study for Woman".

Stefan Neuner in Willem de Kooning. Ed. Ingried Brugger and Florian Steininger. Exh. cat., Kunstforum Wien. Vienna, 2005, p. 30, fig. 8 (color), dates it 1950.

Florian Steininger in Willem de Kooning. Ed. Ingried Brugger and Florian Steininger. Exh. cat., Kunstforum Wien. Vienna, 2005, pp. 58–59, fig. 5 (color), dates it 1950.

John Elderfield. De Kooning: A Retrospective. Ed. David Frankel. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, 2011, p. 250, colorpl. 81, dates this work 1950 but suggests that it should be dated later based on its similarity to photographs of "Woman I" (1950–52, Museum of Modern Art, New York) in progress in 1951.

Richard Shiff. Between Sense and de Kooning. London, 2011, p. 202, fig. 79 (color).

Richard Shiff in Brand–New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s. Exh. cat., Colby College Museum of Art. Waterville, Me., 2015, p. 43, fig. 21 (color), dates it 1950.



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