Elaine de Kooning
|Elaine de Kooning|
Elaine de Kooning in 1980
|Born||Elaine Marie Fried
March 12, 1918
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||February 1, 1989
Southampton, New York
|Movement||New York Figurative Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism|
Elaine de Kooning (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 the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. Later in life Elaine told people she was born in 1920. Her parents were Mary Ellen O'Brien, an Irish Catholic, and Charles Frank Fried, a Protestant. Her father Charles was a plant manager for the Bond Bread Company. She was the eldest of four children. Her mother, despite being recalled as less loving and attentive than some parents by Elaine’s younger sister, supported her artistic endeavors. Mary Ellen 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. While still 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. 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. While attending school, Elaine made money working as an art school model.
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 this time.
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 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 that 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.
A large portion of Elaine de Kooning’s work was in portraiture. Her subjects were often fellow artists—usually men—including poets Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg, art critic Harold Rosenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and painters Fairfield Porter 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. 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." 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.
Elaine de Kooning was an important writer and teacher on 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 to the Art News magazine. Elaine de Kooning was the first American artist in the 1950s to take a role of the 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 because of alcoholism, she took on a series of short-term teaching job 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, 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.
Later in life, Elaine produced a series of paintings inspired by the paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. In Paleolithic art she found the roots of Abstract Expressionism, since they have the same improvisational processes and spontaneous technique. In others 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. She died three months later from complications of lung cancer.
"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 and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Marriage to Willem de Kooning
When Elaine and Willem de Kooning met in 1938, Elaine was 19 and Willem was 34. Elaine had admired Willem’s artwork before meeting him, and after they did he began to instruct her in drawing and painting. They painted in Willem’s 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.
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 the 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.
Elaine and Willem de Kooning 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, who was a renowned art critic, Thomas B. Hess, who was 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.
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, and ultimately reunited in 1976.
Selected solo exhibitions
- 1952, 1954, 1956: Stable Gallery, NYC;
- 1957: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NYC;
- 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, NYC;
- 1964: "25 Portraits of J.F.K.", Peale House Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
- 1979: "Bacchus, Works on Paper", Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and Library, Laurel, Mississippi;
- 1982: 86: Gruenebaum Gallery’ NYC;
- 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, NYC.
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, NYC;
- 1956: "Abstract Expressionism", circ., by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; "Young American Painters", circ., The Museum of Modern Art, NYC; "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, NYC;
- 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: "East Hampton Avant-Garde, A Salute to the Signa Gallery", Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York.
- 2015: "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present", Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida 
- 1958-59: University of New Mexico;
- 1960: The Pennsylvania State University;
- 1963-64: University of California, Davis, California;
- 1967: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut;
- 1968: Pratt Institute;
- 1968-70: Carnegie-Mellon University;
- 1971-72: University of Pennsylvania;
- 1971: Wagner College;
- 1974: New York Studio School, Paris;
- 1974-75: Parsons School of Design, NYC;
- 1976-79: University of Georgia.
- "Elaine de Kooning". TheArtStory.org.
- Glueck, Grace (February 2, 1989). "Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68". New York Times.
- Swain, Martica (1997). "Review". Woman's Art Journal 18 (2): 31–33. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
- Edvard Lieber, "Willem de Kooning: Reflections in the Studio", p.10.
- ‘’It is, No.4, Autumn, 1959.’’ Magazine for Abstract Art, Second Half Publishing Co., New York pp. 29, 30.
- "Elaine de Kooning Biography, Art and Analysis of Work".
- Moonan, Wendy. "Why Elaine de Kooning Sacrificed her Own Amazing Career for her More-Famous Husband's".
- "Fine Arts : Special Exhibits". El Palacio 65 (5). October 1958.
- "National Portrait Gallery Presents Rarely Seen Portraits". Smithsonian. January 14, 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-20.
- De Kooning, Elaine. The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism, Selected Writings.
- Hall, Lee. Elaine and Bill: Portrait of a Marriage.
- "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present - Museum of Fine Arts". www.fine-arts.org. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
- 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