Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning in 1980
Elaine Marie Catherine Fried
March 12, 1918
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||February 1, 1989 (aged 70)|
Southampton, New York
|Movement||New York Figurative Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism|
Elaine Marie Catherine de Kooning (Dutch: [də ˈkoːnɪŋ], née Fried; March 12, 1918 – February 1, 1989) was an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter in the post-World War II era. She wrote extensively on the art of the period and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine. On December 9, 1943, she married painter Willem de Kooning.
Early life and education
Elaine de Kooning was born Elaine Marie Catherine Fried in 1918 in Flatbush, New York. Later in life she told people she was born in 1920. Her parents were Mary Ellen O'Brien, an Irish Catholic, and Charles Frank Fried, a Protestant of Jewish descent. Her father Charles was a plant manager for the Bond Bread Company.
Elaine was the eldest of four children; Marjorie Luyckx, Conrad and Peter Fried were her siblings. Her mother, despite being recalled as less loving and attentive than some parents by Elaine's younger sister, supported her eldest's artistic endeavors.
Elaine's mother started taking Elaine to museums at the age of five and taught her to draw what she saw. Elaine's childhood room was decorated with painting reproductions. Mary Ellen was committed to the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center for a year during Elaine's childhood after a neighbor reported her for neglect of her children.
In grade school, Elaine began drawing and selling portraits of children attending her school. She was interested in and did well at sports as well as art. Elaine studied at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. After graduating from High School, she briefly attended Hunter College in New York City, where she befriended a group of abstract and Social Realist painters. 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. While attending school, Elaine made money working as an art school model.
Marriage to Willem de Kooning
In the fall of 1938 her teacher Robert Jonas introduced her to Willem de Kooning at a Manhattan cafeteria when she was 20 and he 34. Elaine had admired his artwork before meeting him. After meeting, Willem began to instruct her in drawing and painting. They painted in his loft at 143 West 21st Street, and he was known for his harsh criticism of her work, "sternly requiring that she draw and redraw a figure or still life and insisting on fine, accurate, clear linear definition supported by precisely modulated shading." He even destroyed many of her drawings, but this "impelled Elaine to strive for both precision and grace in her work". When they married in 1943, she moved into his loft and they continued sharing studio spaces.
The couple had what was later called an open marriage; they both were casual about sex and about each other's affairs. Elaine had affairs with men who helped further Willem's career, such as Harold Rosenberg, a renowned art critic; Thomas B. Hess, a writer about art and managing editor for Artnews; and Charles Egan, owner of the Charles Egan Gallery. Willem had a daughter, Lisa de Kooning, in 1956, as a result of his affair with Joan Ward[who?].
Elaine and Willem both struggled with alcoholism, which eventually led to their separation in 1957. While separated, Elaine remained in New York, struggling with poverty, and Willem moved to Long Island and dealt with depression. Despite struggling with alcoholism, they both continued painting. Although separated for nearly twenty years, they never divorced, ultimately reuniting in 1976.
Elaine de Kooning was an accomplished landscape and portrait artist active in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the early twentieth century. She was a member of the Eighth Street Club (the Club) in New York City. The Club functioned as a space to discuss ideas. Among this group of artists were Willem de Kooning, Jimmy Rosati, Giorgio Spaventi, Milton Resnick, Pat Passlof, Earl Kerkam, Ludwig Sander, Angelo Ippolito, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, and Hans Hofmann. A membership position for a woman was rare at that time.
Elaine promoted Willem's work throughout their relationship. Along with her own work as a painter, she was committed to gaining recognition for her husband's work. Though she was very serious about her own work, she was well-aware that it was often overshadowed by her husband's fame. After showing their work in their 1951 exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery, Artists: Man and Wife, which also included Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, and Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Elaine said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time, but later I came to think that it was a bit of a put-down of the women. There was something about the show that sort of attached women-wives- to the real artists". Despite this effect on her own career, Elaine continued to promote her husband.
Women were often marginalized in the Abstract Expressionist movement, functioning as objects and accessories to confirm the masculinity of their male counterparts. For that reason, 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, and to not be confused with her husband Willem de Kooning.
Elaine de Kooning was an important writer and teacher of art. She began working at the magazine Artnews in 1948, and wrote articles about major figures in the art world. She wrote about one hundred articles for Art News magazine. Elaine de Kooning was the first American artist in the 1950s to take on the role of artists' critic. "As an writer, she wrote about culture, art, and new ideas to her generation of artists and readers." Although Elaine was a successful writer, she considered herself a "painter by nature." Elaine de kooning's art and writing were all devoted to art and humanity.
Over the course of her life, she held teaching posts at many institutions of higher education. In 1957, after Elaine and Willem de Kooning separated, she took on a series of short-term teaching jobs to support herself. She taught at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; the University of California in Davis; at Carnegie Mellon, at Southampton College on Long Island; at the Cooper Union and Pratt Institute in New York; at Yale; at RISD in Rhode Island; Bard College; the University of Georgia and the New York Studio School in Paris. Between 1976 and 1978, she served as the first Lamar Dodd Visiting Professor of Art at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens. In 1985 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full academician in 1988.
In 2016 de Kooning was one of twelve female artists featured in the "Women of Abstract Expressionism" exhibition organized by the Denver Art Museum. The purpose of this show was to highlight the unique talents and perspectives of female artists who, as was previously noted, were often dismissed or overshadowed by their male counterparts. The show later traveled to the Mint Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum.
—Elaine de Kooning
"For Elaine, everything was always new, never resolved, always being unmade and made, as if it had never been made before. She did not accumulate experience and learn what to expect ... Life was a constant surprise." Being the wife of the famous painter Willem de Kooning, she did not receive real recognition for her own achievement until a few years before she died. Her works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Elaine de Kooning made both abstract and figurative paintings and drawings of still life, cityscapes, and portraits. Her work was influenced by the artists Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, artists who worked abstractly and also in a figurative way. Her earlier work comprised watercolors and still lifes, including fifty 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. Her work presents a combination between painting and drawing, surface and contour, stroke and line, color and light, transparency and opacity.
When asked about her style she said, "I'm more interested in character than style. Character comes out of the work. Style is applied or imposed on the work. Style can be a prison.
In the summer of 1948, Elaine and Willem de Kooning spent a summer at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. Elaine studied under Josef Albers, R. Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham. A regular participant in theatrical performances, Elaine was very involved in the college's social life. While there, she created a body of work of sixteen abstract painting with colorful interlocking curves. 
Although the work were helpful in her progress as an artist, she found her series at proved to be a dead end and kept them stored away for decades.
A large portion of Elaine de Kooning's work was in portraiture. In addition to painting many self-portraits throughout the course of her life, her subjects were often fellow artists—usually men—including poets Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and Allen Ginsberg; writer Donald Barthelme; art critic Harold Rosenberg; Thomas B. Hess, managing editor of Artnews; choreographer Merce Cunningham; legendary art dealer Leo Castelli; innovative jazz musician Ornette Coleman; the famous Brazilian soccer star Pele; and painters Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz and her husband, Willem de Kooning. Although she worked in a gestural Abstract Expressionist mode, she never abandoned working with the figure ensuring the person's likeness.
Elaine employed a wide range of virtuosic drawing and painting techniques: finely detailed pencil drawings and more free ink drawings, crosshatching, erasure, stumping, and improvisational graphic lines, thin paint and impasto, “thin, dripping washes of bold color…” with many media: pencil, ink, charcoal, gouache, collage, mixed media, oil on paper, canvas and masonite.
'She achieves a sense of distinguishing facial features and captures each subject's presence with sharp, jagged strokes of paint… A drawing of [her brother] Conrad from 1951 presents [his] head and shoulders against a dark background, with a combination of careful lines and darker strokes defining a contemplative figure with great subtlety.”
In regard to her portraiture, 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 ..." She studied each person "to find the characteristic pose that would define them." Elaine de Kooning made portraits of men in her life, such as her husband Willem de Kooning and gallery owner Charles Egan, with whom she had an affair while he was representing her husband Willem de Kooning. A great example of this is the series of studies and finished portraits of President John F. Kennedy, which was the most important commission in her career. 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.
In the fall of 1958, until late spring of 1959 Elaine got a teaching appointment as visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico. This gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in the characteristic color and space of the Southwestern landscape. She visited Juarez, Mexico where she attended many bullfights. She created a series of painting inspired by the theme with bold and bright colors. She wrote that "the cottonwood trees and aspens had turned an overwhelming gold" and that "New England mountains are so well planted, but the New Mexico mountains seems to move toward you". During her stay she travelled to Sante Fe and visited Georgia O Keeffe. She described her as a "grand old gal" who "looks like a monk and was very witty in a dry sort of way".
She started to experiment with acrylic paint during that period. She made connections with students such as William Conger and became friends with artists Joan Oppenheimer, Connie Fox or Margaret Randall. She also got involved with Robert Mallary a fellow instructor.
During the 1970s, she made a series of quasi-figurative, orgiastic paintings titled Bacchus.
This series of paintings and watercolors that Elaine de Kooning generated over seven years began in 1976. She was captivated by a 19th-century sculpture of the Roman god Bacchus, which she saw in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. She particularly admired the sculpture’s twisting, dynamic form, which portrays the commotion created by the drunken god and his equally inebriated attendants. It was the first time she ever used acrylic paint.
In 1983 Elaine visited the paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain and produced a series of paintings titled Cave Walls. In Paleolithic art she found the roots of Abstract Expressionism, since they have the same improvisational processes and spontaneous technique. In other words, "she found Paleolithic art close in spirit to twentieth-century art."
In 1985 when Elaine de Kooning visited the cave in the Spanish Pyrenees, she realized that the geological formations and textures of the cave wall were the same as her ground of flying color, drips, washes, and strokes, animal forms and drawing rising out of its contours; giving her the affirmation to her own way of working. These series of paintings were shown at the Fischbach Gallery in November 1988, three months before her death.
De Kooning's work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions as well as in a multitude of group shows in commercial art galleries as well as in major art museums and institutions. The artist's work has received increasing critical acclaim posthumously, resulting in exhibitions such as the major museum show "Elaine De Kooning: Portraits" hosted by the National Portrait Gallery in 2015 in Washington, DC.
Selected solo exhibitions
- 1954, 1956: Stable Gallery, New York;
- 1957: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York;
- 1958: Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, [Santa Fe, New Mexico];
- 1959: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut;
- 1960: Ellison Gallery, Fort Worth, Texas;
- 1960, 1963, 1965, 1975: Graham Gallery, New York;
- 1964: "25 Portraits of J.F.K.", Peale House Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
- 1973 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
- 1979: "Bacchus, Works on Paper", Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and Library, Laurel, Mississippi;
- 1982: 86: Gruenebaum Gallery' New York;
- 1983: "Elaine de Kooning and the Bacchus Motif", Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois;
- 1984: "Elaine de Kooning: New Paintings", C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland;
- 1991: "Black Mountain Paintings from 1948", Joan T. Washburn Gallery, New York;
- 2015: "Elaine de Kooning: Portraits", National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Selected group exhibitions
- 1951, 1953-1957: 9th Street Art Exhibition, the first "New York Painters and Sculptors Annual Exhibition" and subsequent 5 New York Artists' Annual Exhibitions, Stable Gallery, New York;
- 1956: "Abstract Expressionism", circ., by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; "Young American Painters", circ., The Museum of Modern Art, New York; "Pittsburgh International", Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh;
- 1958: "Action Painting, 1958", The Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas;
- 1960: "Abstract Expressionists Painting of the Fifties", The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota;
- 1961: The Whitney Museum of American Art Annuals and Biennials, New York;
- 1964: "67th Annual American Exhibition: Directions in Contemporary Painting and Sculpture", The Art Institute of Chicago;
- 1980: "The Fifties: Aspects Painting in New York", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; "Heads: An Exhibit of Portraits", C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland.
- 1990: "Four Centuries of Women's Art", the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; "East Hampton Avant-Garde, A Salute to the Signa Gallery", Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York.
- 1997: "Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art 1987–1997", the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
- 2015: "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present", Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida
- 2016: "Expanding the Narrative: Women Artists and Abstract Expressionism", the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
- 2016: "Women in Abstract Expressionism", Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
- 2019: "Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St," the Katonah Museum of Art, Westchester County, NY.
- 2019: "Postwar Women:alumnae of the Art Students League of New York 1945-1965", Phyllis Harriman Gallery, Art Students League of NY; curated by Will Corwin.
- 2020: "9th Street Club", Gazelli Art House, London; curated by Will Corwin.
During her lifetime, Elaine de Kooning taught at some of the most prestigious universities:
- 1958-59: University of New Mexico
- 1960: The Pennsylvania State University
- 1963-64: University of California Davis
- 1967: Yale University
- 1968: Pratt Institute
- 1968-70: Carnegie-Mellon University
- 1971-72: University of Pennsylvania
- 1971: Wagner College
- 1974: New York Studio School
- 1974-75: Parsons School of Design
- 1976-79: University of Georgia
Notable works by this artist are in the permanent collections of:
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
- The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
- The Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
- The National Academy Museum and School, New York, NY
- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA
- The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
- Guild Hall Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, East Hampton, Long Island, NY
- The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Mary Beth Edelson's Some Living American Women Artists / Last Supper (1972) appropriated Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, with the heads of notable women artists collaged over the heads of Christ and his apostles. Elaine was among those notable women artists. This image, addressing the role of religious and art historical iconography in the subordination of women, became "one of the most iconic images of the feminist art movement."
In 2015, the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center hosted "Elaine de Kooning Portrayed," an exhibition dedicated to portraits, likenesses, and reflections on de Kooning by other artists, including her husband Willem as well as Arshile Gorky, Fairfield Porter, Hedda Sterne, Alex Katz, Robert De Niro, Sr., Ray Johnson, Joop Sanders, Paul Harris, and Edvins Strautman.
One of the few residences owned by Elaine de Kooning during her lifetime was a studio at Alewive Brook Road in East Hampton. The current owners are reportedly developing an artists' residency/alternative exhibition space referred to as "the Elaine de Kooning house."
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- Bledsoe, Jane K, Ed. " Elaine de Kooning: Essays by Lawrence Campbell, Helen Harrison, Rose Slivka." Georgia museum of Art. Univ of Ga 1992.
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- Tuchman, Phyllis. "Oral history interview with Elaine De Kooning."Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Washington. 27 Aug. 1981.
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- "Fried" surname
- Moonan, Wendy. "Why Elaine de Kooning Sacrificed her Own Amazing Career for her More-Famous Husband's".
- Curtis, Cathy (2017). A Generous Vision: The Creative Life of Elaine de Kooning. p. 221. ISBN 978-0190498474.
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- Elaine de Kooning : portraits. De Kooning, Elaine,, Fortune, Brandon Brame,, Gibson, Ann Eden, 1944-, Čupić, Simona,, National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution). Washington, D.C. 2015. ISBN 9783791354385. OCLC 898530063.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Elaine de Kooning : portraits. De Kooning, Elaine,, Fortune, Brandon Brame,, Gibson, Ann Eden, 1944-, Čupić, Simona,, National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution). Washington, D.C. 2015. p. 21. ISBN 9783791354385. OCLC 898530063.CS1 maint: others (link)
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- "Bacchus #3 | National Museum of Women in the Arts". nmwa.org. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
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- NY Times, New York Galleries: What to See Right Now
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- "Mary Beth Edelson". The Frost Art Museum Drawing Project. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- "Mary Beth Adelson". Clara - Database of Women Artists. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of Women in the Arts. Archived from the original on 10 January 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- "Casa de Kooning: An Afternoon at East Hampton's New Artist Colony". ArtNews. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
- Gabriel, Mary. Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: five painters and the movement that changed modern art. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018
- Grace Glueck; "Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68", New York Times obituary, February 2, 1989
- Paul Schimmel; Judith E Stein; Newport Harbor Art Museum, The Figurative fifties: New York figurative expressionism (Newport Beach, California: Newport Harbor Art Museum; New York: Rizzoli, 1988); ISBN 0-8478-0942-0, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4, ISBN 0-917493-12-5, ISBN 978-0-917493-12-6
- Lee Hall, Elaine and Bill, portrait of a marriage : the lives of Willem and Elaine de Kooning, (New York, New York : HarperCollins Pub., ©1993.) ISBN 0-06-018305-5
- Marika Herskovic, American Abstract and Figurative Expressionism: Style Is Timely Art Is Timeless (New York School Press, 2009); ISBN 978-0-9677994-2-1 pp. 72–75
- Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, (New York School Press, 2003); ISBN 0-9677994-1-4; pp. 90–93
- Marika Herskovic, New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000); ISBN 0-9677994-0-6; p. 8, 16, 25, 36, 102-105
- The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism Selected Writings; ISBN 0-8076-1337-1
- Edvard Lieber, Willem de Kooning: Reflections in the Studio, (New York, New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000); ISBN 0-8109-4560-6
- Huffington Post, "Elaine de Kooning Birthday: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Great Abstract Expressionist," March 12, 2013 
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Elaine de Kooning|
- Oral history transcript of an interview with Elaine de Kooning on August 27, 1981, conducted by Phyllis Tuchman for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- "Elaine de Kooning in a dialogue with Rosalyn Drexler", in ARTnews, January 1971 and reproduced in the coverage of 'Women in the Art World today', in ARTnews, June 2015
- Article: "Instant Illuminations: Elaine de Kooning's Early Portraiture" from Hyperallergic, April 2015
- Audio Recording of Elaine de Kooning, April 6, 1977, from Maryland Institute College of Art's Decker Library, Internet Archive
- Article: Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) from New Georgia Encyclopedia Paul Andrew Manoguerra, Georgia Museum of Art, 03/04/2004.
- An in depth analysis of Elaine de Kooning's most notable art pieces, The Art Story Modern Art Insight
- Article/Archives: "Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68", by Grace Glueck, The New York Times, 1989
- Audio Recording: Oral history interview with Elaine de Kooning, Smithsonian, Archives of American art 1981 August 27.
- Review Article: "A Generous Vision' of Elaine de Kooning" by Karen Wilkin, The Wall Street Journal Jan. 5, 2018.