Elaine de Kooning

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Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.jpg
Elaine de Kooning in 1980
Born Elaine Marie Fried
(1918-03-12)March 12, 1918[1]
Brooklyn, New York
Died February 1, 1989(1989-02-01) (aged 70)
Southampton, New York
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Movement New York Figurative Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism

Elaine de Kooning (March 12, 1918[1] – February 1, 1989[2]) was an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter in the post-World War II era. She wrote extensively on the art of the period [3] and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine.[4] On December 9, 1943, she married painter Willem de Kooning.

Early life and education[edit]

A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image.[5]

Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning was born Elaine Marie Catherine Fried in 1918 [1] in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Mary Ellen O'Brien and Charles Frank Fried, a plant manager for the Bond Bread Company.[1] She was the oldest of four children. Her artistic endeavors were supported by her mother, who took her to museums and taught her to draw what she saw. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, she briefly attended Hunter College in New York City. Then, in 1937, she attended the Leonardo da Vinci Art School and went on to study at the American Artists School, both in New York City.[6]


Elaine de Kooning was an accomplished landscape and portrait artist active in the Abstract Expressionism movement of the early 20th century. She was a member of the Eighth Street Club (the Club) in New York City.[7] The Club’s members were part of the abstract expressionist movement, and the Club functioned as a space to discuss ideas. A membership position for a woman was rare at this time. Women were often marginalized in the Abstract Expressionist movement, functioning as objects and accessories to confirm the masculinity of their male counterparts.[8] On December 9, 1943, she married Dutch action painter Willem de Kooning, whose career eventually eclipsed hers.[8]

Elaine de Kooning was a part of the abstract expressionist movement. She chose to sign her artworks with her initials rather than her full name, to avoid her paintings being labeled as feminine in a traditionally masculine movement. She made both abstract and figurative paintings and drawings. Her earlier work comprised watercolors and still lifes, including 50 watercolor sketches inspired by a statue in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Later in her career, her work fused abstraction with mythology, primitive imagery, and realism. Her gestural style of portraiture is often noted, although her work was mostly figurative and representational, and rarely purely abstract. She produced a diverse body of work over the course of her lifetime, including sculpture, etchings, and work inspired by cave drawings, all in addition to her many paintings.[9] Late in life, she produced a series of paintings inspired by the paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain; these were shown at the Fischbach Gallery in November 1988. She died three months later from complications of lung cancer.[10]

A large portion of Elaine de Kooning work was in portraiture; her subjects were often fellow artists—usually men—including poets Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg, critic Harold Rosenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and painters Fairfield Porter and her husband, Willem de Kooning.[11] De Kooning also did a series of men with children, and a series of women after she resumed painting a year after John F. Kennedy’s death. Elaine de Kooning wrote, “when I painted my seated men, I saw them as gyroscopes. Portraiture always fascinated me because I love the particular gesture of a particular expression or stance...Working on the figure, I wanted paint to sweep through as feelings sweep through...” on the subject of her portraits.[12] Her works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Elaine de Kooning was an important writer and teacher on art. She began working at the magazine Art News in 1948, and wrote articles about major figures in the art world.[13] Over the course of her life, she held teaching posts at many institutions of higher education.[10] Between 1976 and 1978, she served as the first Lamar Dodd Visiting Professor of Art at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens.[13] In 1985 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1988.

Marriage to Willem de Kooning[edit]

Elaine and Willem de Kooning met in 1938, and married in 1943. They were married for more than 45 years, but were separated for much of that time.


De Kooning died on February 1, 1989, in Southampton, New York,[2] a year after having a lung removed due to lung cancer.[1]


Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Selected group exhibitions[edit]

Teaching positions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Elaine de Kooning". TheArtStory.org. 
  2. ^ a b Glueck, Grace (February 2, 1989). "Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Swain, Martica (Autumn, 1997 - Winter, 1998). "Review". Woman's Art Journal 18 (2): 31–33. Retrieved 7 March 2015.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ Edvard Lieber, "Willem de Kooning: Reflections in the Studio", p.10.
  5. ^ ‘’It is, No.4, Autumn, 1959.’’ Magazine for Abstract Art, Second Half Publishing Co., New York pp. 29, 30.
  6. ^ American abstract and figurative expressionism : style is timely art is timeless : an illustrated survey with artists' statements, artwork and biographies. p. 75
  7. ^ Glueck, Grace (2002). "Elaine de Kooning artist and teacher dies at 68". New York Times. 
  8. ^ a b Chadwick, Whitney (2012). Women, Art, & Society (5 ed.). New York: Thames & Hudson. 
  9. ^ "Elaine de Kooning". theartstory.org. 
  10. ^ a b "Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "The National Portrait Gallery; Elaine de Kooning: Portraits". 
  12. ^ Berkson, Bill (1992). "The Portraitist". Modern Painters: 40–42. 
  13. ^ a b "Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. 
  14. ^ "Fine Arts : Special Exhibits". El Palacio 65 (5). October 1958. 


External links[edit]