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ART 4 2-DAY 24 April
Born on 24 April 1889: Liubov'
Sergeyevna Popova, Moscovite painter and designer who died
on 25 May 1924.
She worked with Vladimir Tatlin, in Moscow early in the 20th century and visited Paris and Italy in 1911 and 1912. She is primarily a cubist painter but she also designed textiles, dresses, books, costumes, and theater sets.
— She was born into a wealthy family and trained as a teacher before beginning her artistic studies with Stanislav Zhukovsky [1873–1944] and Konstantin Yuon. Their influence, particularly through their interest in luminous tonalities reminiscent of Impressionism, can be seen in early works by Popova such as Still-life with Basket of Fruit (1908). Popova travelled extensively: in Kiev (1909) she was very impressed by the religious works of Mikhail Vrubel'; in Italy (1910) she admired Renaissance art, especially the paintings of Giotto. Between 1910 and 1911 she toured many parts of Russia, including Suzdal', Novgorod, Yaroslavl' and Pskov. Inspired by Russian architecture, frescoes and icons, she developed a less naturalistic approach. A more crucial influence was the first-hand knowledge of Cubism that she gained in Paris, which she visited with Nadezhda Udal'tsova during the winter of 1912–13. She studied at the Académie de la Palette, under the direction of Henri Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger, and her paintings of this time clearly display the influence of these artists (e.g. Two Figures, 1914). Numerous sketchbooks attest to the rigor with which Popova applied Cubist analysis to the human figure. This approach was extended to paintings, for example Seated Figure (1914), which has affinities with work by Léger and the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni; here, Popova shows a new confidence and fluency, and a more sophisticated integration of form and space into the transparent structures of curved and rectilinear planes. A more complex and dynamic fragmentation appears in canvases such as Traveling Woman (1915)
— Liubov Popova was born near Moscow. After graduating from the Arseniev Gymnasium, she studied art with Stanislav Zhukovsky in 1907 and with Konstantin Yuon and Ivan Dudin in 1908. In the course of travels from 1909 to 1911, she saw Mikhail Vrubel’s work in Kiev, ancient Russian churches and icons in Pskov and Novgorod, and early Renaissance art in Italy. In 1912, Popova worked at the Tower, a Moscow studio, with Vladimir Tatlin and other artists. That winter, she visited Paris, where she studied under Henri Le Fauconnier, Jean Metzinger, and André Dunoyer de Segonzac at La Palette. In 1913, Popova returned to Russia, but the following year she visited again France and Italy, where she gained familiarity with Futurism.
In her work of 1912 to 1915, Popova was concerned with Cubist form and the representation of movement; after 1915, her nonrepresentational style revealed the influence of icon painting. She participated in many exhibitions of advanced art in Russia during this period: the Jack of Diamonds shows of 1914 and 1916 in Moscow; Tramway V: First Futurist Exhibition of Paintings and 0.10: The Last Futurist Exhibition, both in 1915 in St. Petersburg; The Store in 1916, Fifth State Exhibition: From Impressionism to Nonobjective Art in 1918–1919, and Tenth State Exhibition: Non-Objective Creativity and Suprematism in 1919, all in Moscow. In 1916, Popova joined the Supremus group, which was organized by Kazimir Malevich. She taught at Svomas and Vkhutemas from 1918 onward and was a member of Inkhuk from 1920 to 1923.
The artist participated in the 5 x 5 = 25 exhibition in Moscow in 1921 and in the Erste russische Kunstausstellung, held under the auspices of the Russian government at the Galerie van Diemen in Berlin in 1922. In 1921, Popova turned away from studio painting to execute utilitarian Productivist art: she designed textiles, dresses, books, porcelain, costumes, and theater sets (the latter for Vsevolod Meierkhold’s productions of Fernand Crommelynk’s The Magnanimous Cuckold, 1922, and Serge Tretiakov’s Earth on End, 1923). Popova died May 25, 1924, in Moscow.
— The artists of the Russian avant-garde were distinguished from their Western counterparts in many ways, particularly in the extraordinary number of women in their ranks who were responsible for discovering new bases of artistic creation. Liubov Popova was among the most important of these early pioneers. Her development as an artist was encouraged through private lessons and frequent travel, which brought her into contact with a broad range of historical examples, from Italian Renaissance art and Russian medieval icons to Cubism and other Western vanguard styles. In 1912 she went to Paris with fellow painter Nadezhda Udaltsova to study painting at the Académie de la Palette under André Dunoyer de Segonzac, Henri Le Fauconnier, and Jean Metzinger. There she mastered the Cubist idiom and was probably exposed to Italian Futurism, the two styles that would dominate her paintings of the next three and a half years.
After returning to Moscow in 1913, she quickly emerged as one of the primary exponents of Russian Cubo-Futurism, an amalgam of the faceted planarity of Cubism and the formal energy of Futurist art. Birsk was completed near the end of her involvement with this style. Its crystalline structure is formally reminiscent of the views of houses in l’Estaque painted by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in 1908, but the vibrant palette attests to Popova’s sustained interest in Russian folk and decorative art. Birsk (1916, 106x70cm), one of the few landscapes from this stage of Popova’s career, was begun during a summer visit to the home of her former governess, who lived near the Ural Mountains in the small town of the painting’s title.
The painting on the reverse of the same canvas, entitled Portrait of a Woman (1915, 106x71cm), shows Popova undertaking a subject that consistently occupied her during 1915: a figure situated in a Cubist-inspired composition. Although this work retains some representational elements, Popova’s gradual move away from representation is evident in her forceful application of an abstract visual vocabulary. By the end of 1916 Popova was completely devoted to abstraction, joining Kazimir Malevich’s Supremus group and creating paintings composed solely of dynamic geometric forms. These experiments in texture, rhythm, density, and color — which she called “painterly architectonics” — became the basis of her textile and theater designs of the 1920s. Like many of her Russian colleagues, Popova would ultimately renounce painting as obsolete and concern herself with the applied arts, which became synonymous with building a new society after the October Revolution.
Objects (1915) _ The only readily recognizable object is a partially hidden guitar.
— Architectonic Painting and Portrait (2 pictures on one page)
Composition — Sitzender weiblicher Akt (1914, 106x87cm)
— Prozodezhda aktera No. 7 (The Magnanimous Cuckold: Actor no. 7, costume design, 1921) _ In the early twentieth century, avant-garde artists began exploring the forms and technologies of mass media. Beginning in 1909, the Italian Futurists rejected the past and glorified the age of the machine--cars, planes, speed, and war. Dada, dedicated to destroying the status quo, arose in Zurich in 1916 and then in New York, Berlin, and Paris, reacting against the absurdity and horror of World War I. Futurist and Dada poets scattered different styles and sizes of type across the page, using the techniques of advertising as literary devices. In Russia the Constructivists combined ideas from abstract painting with experimental typography in the early 1920s to create a new language of public address; Liubov' Popova's costume design at left for The Magnanimous Cuckold employs a red square as both a banner for social change and a functional element of costume.
— The Traveler (1915, 142x105cm) _ In the early twentieth century, avant-garde women artists such as Popova, for the first time in history, became influential forces in directing the course of art. Between 1912 and 1914 she studied Cubism and non-objective art in Paris. The Traveler was painted when Popova was already deeply committed to a style of non-objective art. However, we still can discern recognizable forms linking the painting to the objective world — a woman wearing a yellow necklace and carrying a bright green umbrella. Glimpses of a railing, green grass, and a flag suggest the scenery through which she passes. The stenciled letters, an inheritance from the Cubist paintings of Braque and Picasso, are traditionally two-dimensional and help to emphasize the flatness of the picture plane.
Died on or before 24 April 1484
(but after 23 March 1476): Antonio Vivarini da Murano,
Italian painter born in 1415.
Antonio Vivarini became prominent in Venetian painting about 1440 and was active until about 1480, producing many joint works with his brother-in-law Giovanni d'Alemagna [–1450]. Antonio also often collaborated with his brother Bartolomeo Vivarini, and the family dynasty remained important until the death of Antonio’s son Alvise Luigi Vivarini [1446-1505].
The Vivarini were a family of Venetian painters of the mid- and late 15th century. Their work represents a transition from the traditional stylized Gothic- and Byzantine-inspired school to the more realistic Renaissance-influenced manner of the 1500s. The brothers Antonio Vivarini and Bartolomeo Vivarini [1440->1500] collaborated on religious polyptychs with linear, often stiff figures and vertical architectural backgrounds, all enclosed in ornate gilded frames. Because of the collective nature of much Vivarini workshop activity, connoisseurs have remained unusually confused about Antonio’s work, and attributions, particularly as regards his late work, are often misleading. After Giovanni d’Alemagna’s death in 1450, Antonio probably continued to produce independent works but also collaborated with Bartolomeo; from about 1460 he ran the workshop alone.
— Antonio Vivarini's students included Carlo Crivelli.
— Six Scenes from the Life of Mary (600x2542pix blurry _ ZOOM not recommended to very blurry 1400x5932pix, 1000kb)
— Adoration by the Magi (600x920pix _ ZOOM to 1400x2147pix)
— Saint Mary Magdalene Lifted by Angels (600x228pix _ ZOOM to 1400x532pix)
Marriage of Saint Monica (1441, 46x31cm) _ This small panel, together with others which have recently been identified, made up an altar-piece dedicated to Saint Monica in the Church of San Stefano in Venice. The domestic scene is set in the courtyard of a bourgeois household and embodies Antonio Vivarini's timid attempts at rendering spacial perspective. It demonstrates too the extent to which his world, suspended between the new and the old, acknowledged the importance of Renaissance rules. In contrast with the uncertain definition of the architecture in terms of perspective, the details of costume and the physical and spiritual gestures of the characters are carefully recorded.
Triptych (1446, 339x200cm central, 339x138cm each side) _ In this grandiose triptych Antonio Vivarini, helped by his brother-in-law Giovanni d'Alemagna (active 1441-1450), achieved a highpoint of balance between the International Gothic tradition now in decline, and the rising Renaissance. A natural light lends tenderness to the holy figures. The Virgin, however, sits rigid like a Byzantine empress on a Gothic throne, surrounded by Masolinoesque angels who are holding the poles of the high canopy almost as if it were a game. The saints Gregory and Jerome on the left and Ambrose and Augustine on the right, stand immobile in their heavy ecclesiastical garments shining with gold and color. The holy scene appears constrained by the marble walls with their Gothic fretwork, set in a perspective as improbable as it is ostentatious. The sumptuous static scene is a final dazzling reminder of a fairy-tale world. _ detail 1 _ The picture representing Saints Gregory and Jerome is the left canvas of the triptych _ detail 2 _ The picture representing the Enthroned Virgin and Child is the central canvas of the triptych. _ detail 3 _ The picture representing Saints Ambrose and Augustine is the right canvas the triptych.
Virgin and Child (1441, 56x41cm) _ While at Padua and even in Venice itself some of the main figures of the new art of Tuscany were working to the laws of perspective and in the conviction of the conscious dignity of man as an individual, Venetian painting reacted to the promptings of the new culture almost with reluctance, filtering them through a vision which in substance was still Gothic. This is the context of the work of Antonio Vivarini and Jacopo Bellini [1400-1470], both founders of dynasties of artists, and both crucial figures in the period of transition in Venice from the first to the second half of the fifteenth century. This Madonna and Child belongs to Antonio Vivarini's earliest period and is characterized by a certain plasticity of shape and form arising out of the gentle throbbing of the chiaroscuro and the luminous timbre of the color.
— a different Madonna and Child (1460; 600x392pix _ ZOOM to 1400x915pix)
— Saint Louis de Toulouse (1450, 46x36cm)
Born on 24 April 1718: Nathaniel
Hone, Irish painter and printmaker who died on 14 August
— Born in Dublin, he settled in London in the 1740s and soon made a name for himself as a painter in miniature on enamel. Between 1750 and 1752 he studied in Italy. He was a regular exhibitor at the Society of Artists and, in 1768, a founder-member of the Royal Academy, where he exhibited until his death. Although Hone was a relatively successful portrait painter in oils, he was burdened by an overpowering jealousy for Joshua Reynolds and had numerous rifts with the Academy. He was, in particular, opposed to the dominant classicism based on Italian Renaissance art, preferring a more Dutch-inspired domesticity for his figures and their settings. His portraits of children, particularly his own, are considered among the best of their kind in mid-18th-century painting. They include a Piping Boy (1769), which depicts his son John Camillus and which excited great admiration at the first Royal Academy exhibition in 1769; he made an etching of it in 1771. Although Hone was primarily a portrait painter, he is especially remembered for one large subject painting, the Pictorial Conjuror, Displaying the Whole Art of Optical Deception (1775), a work that caused considerable controversy as it was a clever and detailed attack on Reynolds, the first PRA. Not only does it lampoon Reynolds’s penchant for borrowings from the Old Masters but, when first displayed, it also carried the indecorous suggestion of an intimate relationship between Reynolds and the painter Angelica Kauffman. Hone was forced to paint over one section of the painting, but the picture was nevertheless rejected for exhibition at the Academy; his oil sketch records its original appearance. In order to display the rejected Conjuror, also in 1775 Hone arranged his own private show in London, exhibiting 70 works. This helped to initiate the trend for one-man exhibitions taken up increasingly by artists in the following century. — Nathaniel I trained his sons Horace Hone [1754 – 24 May 1825] and John Camillus Hone [1759 — 23 May 1836], both of whom became painters, the former also an engraver. Several members of later generations of the family pursued artistic careers, notably the great-grandson of Nathaniel I's brother Brindley, landscape painter Nathaniel Hone II [26 Oct 1831 – 14 Oct 1917]; and the descendant of Nathaniel I's brother John, painter and stained-glass artist Evie Hone [22 Apr 1894 – 13 Mar 1955].
— Self-Portrait (1765, 32x28mm) Anne Gardiner with her Eldest Son Kirkman (1776)
— Mary Hone, the Artist's Wife (1760, 29x22cm)
— Sketch for The Conjuror (1775, 58x82cm) _ This is the preparatory oil sketch for The Conjuror, a satirical painting which caused one of the greatest art scandals in 18th-century Britain. The conjuror represents Sir Joshua Reynolds, the President of the Royal Academy. The young girl is Angelica Kauffman, a member of the Academy, and allegedly Reynolds’s former lover. Kauffman is also shown cavorting naked among a group of artists at the top left.
— Sir John Fielding (1762, 124x100cm) _ Sir John Fielding [1721-1780], magistrate and social reformer, was the son of a general and the half brother of the magistrate and novelist Henry Fielding. The brothers worked together to raise the standards of honesty and competence amongst those engaged in the administration of justice. John is shown here with one hand holding a document, which is thought to represent one of several which he and his brother wrote suggesting improvements in the law, and the other resting on two volumes, a law book and a Bible. The black band on his forehead was there to let others know that he was blind; it is said that Fielding knew more than three thousand London thieves by their voices.
— John Wesley (1766, 126x100cm) _ John Wesley [17 Jun 1703 – 02 Mar 1791] was the founder of the Methodist movement which grew from the 'Holy Club' of his Oxford friends into a great religious revival. An indefatigable traveller, preacher and writer, Wesley averaged 13'000 km a year on horseback and gave 15 sermons a week. The reluctance of the Anglican clergy to lend him their pulpits led him to give some of his sermons in the open air, a decision which enabled him to reach those among the poorer sections of society who were not accustomed to going to church. Here Wesley is depicted preaching in a rural setting.
Died on 24 April 1803: Adelaïde
Labille~Guiard, French Neoclassical
painter born on 11 April 1749, specialized in Portraits.
— She first was trained (1763) by the miniature painter François-Elie Vincent [1708-1790], whose studio was next door to her father’s shop. By 1769 she had obtained membership in the Académie de Saint-Luc, no doubt sponsored by Vincent, who was Conseiller to this Académie. In that year she married Louis-Nicolas Guiard, a financial clerk; the marriage was childless. In 1779 she obtained a legal separation from her husband. For some time between 1769 and 1774 she studied the technique of pastel with Maurice-Quentin de La Tour [1704-1788]. She first exhibited her work at the Académie de Saint Luc in 1774, when she showed a life-size pastel Portrait of a Magistrate and a Self-portrait in miniature. With the ambition of eventually becoming a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, she entered in 1776 the studio of her childhood friend François-André Vincent [30 Dec 1746 – 04 Aug 1816], in order to learn oil painting, a technique she had mastered by 1780. Following the suppression of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1776, artists who were not members of the Académie Royale had no venue in which to exhibit until the establishment of the Salon de la Correspondance in 1781. There Labille-Guiard exhibited in 1782 and 1783 a series of artists’ portraits in pastel. Her subjects included leading members of the Académie Royale, such as Joseph-Marie Vien (1782), from whom she had requested sittings as a means of developing her professional connections and demonstrating her talent. By then she had made her own studio and by 1783 had been teaching nine women students. In that year she was admitted to full membership of the Académie Royale, on the same day as Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun [1755 – 1842].
— Adélaïde Labille-Guiard exemplifies what a woman of humble beginnings could achieve in 18th-century France if she had talent, determination, and strength of character. First trained under a miniaturist near her father's haberdashery shop, Labille-Guiard later studied pastel and portraiture with Maurice-Quentin de la Tour. Being a charming miniaturist and pastelist was not enough for her, however. Quelling rumors that her oil painting teacher helped her, she gained Académie Royale membership on the same day in 1783 as her rival, Elizabeth Vigée-Le Brun. Soon after, the Académie limited the number of women members, but Labille-Guiard campaigned to open its privileges to other women. As a teacher, she took great interest in her students' careers.
Labille-Guiard's portraits were forthright, unpretentious, perceptive, and displayed a subtle sense of color. Like her contemporaries, she carefully described the textures and details of her sitters' clothes. Well-known and respected, she received patronage from the court and fellow artists like Hubert Robert. She was named official painter to Louis XV's daughters.
When she supported the French Revolution, she lost her clientèle, and revolutionaries ordered her to destroy the huge, unfinished painting of a monarchy-related subject on which she had labored for over two years. It was a devastating blow. With the painting's destruction came the end of her hopes that this painting would win for her the Academy's highest rank of history painter. Always of fragile health, she never found within her the strength to begin another work of such magnitude.
— Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Melle Marie Gabrielle Capet [1761–1818] and Melle Carreaux de Rosemond [–1788] (1785)
— François André Vincent (600x480pix _ ZOOM to 1400x1120pix)
— Delightful Surprise (1779, 55x44cm) _ Turning towards an off-frame visitor, a young woman leans back on a pillow, her gown falling away to expose her upper body. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard created this work as a fantasy portrait, in which the subject reflects the emotion of sensual awakening rather than portraying a specific individual. Labille-Guiard skillfully captured the sense of the woman's body abruptly turning toward an unseen visitor. The quicker pastel medium was capable of suggesting the delicate softness of the woman's skin, lips, and glossy hair.
Born on 24 April 1660: Cornelis
Dusart, (or Dusaert, du Sart), Dutch painter, draftsman,
and printmaker, who died on 01 October 1704.
— He was the son of the organist at Saint Bavo in Haarlem and one of the last students of Adriaen van Ostade [1610-1685], who befriended him and whose style he followed. On Van Ostade's death Dusart inherited his pictures and completed a number of them. Dusart became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke on 10 January 1679 and served as its dean in 1692. Dated pictures by Dusart have survived from almost every year between 1679 and 1702. Two of his earliest pictures of peasants relied heavily on compositions by van Ostade: Mother and Child (1679) and Woman Selling Milk (1679).
Village Scene (1680, 45x55cm)
— Village Feast (1684) — different, with a bigger crowd: La Fête de Village (etching 25x33cm)
Tavern Scene (68x57cm) _ This tavern scene was painted in the manner of Ostade, in a somewhat more exquisite way. Compared with the destitute-looking peasant interiors seen in earlier works, this tavern is bright and well-arranged. The peasants are seen eating, drinking and enjoying themselves and they are more carefully dressed than the figures in earlier peasant scenes. Even the gestures of these peasants have been made to look distinguished, but the result is to make them more ordinary and less interesting than the figures in van Ostade's paintings.
— Young Man with a Raised Glass (1685, 25x15cm) _ Following the steps of his teacher Adriaen van Ostade, Cornelis Dusart devoted himself to the drawing, painting and etching of genre tableaux, peasant gatherings and caricatural heads. His early works remain influenced by Van Ostade, but during the 1680s he developed his own very specific style. In these years he prepared very carefully worked figure studies, which represent the most original part of his extensive and many-side graphic oeuvre. These drawings, among them Young Man with Raísed Glass, are mostly executed in black chalk, at times on blue paper with just a little red chalk for the face and hands.
Dusart worked almost exclusively with male models, whom he had pose constantly in different positions and in varying clothing, concentrating on the facial expressions and psychological characterisation: here we have a jolly drinker, a pipe in his left hand and staring dreamily upward — as if in a slight stupor. The man is presented in full-length, with his face away from the light and only the right eye softly illuminated. Dusart masterfully suggests the subtle shifts from light to dark by means of white chalk highlights, for example on the right side of the face, or with stumped black chalk, as on the open jacket. This delicate technique he undoubtedly took from Cornelis Bega. The catalogue of Dusart's studio produced after his death shows that he had collected drawings by this master. The inventory also mentions "mannetjes na 't leven van Dusart, 251 stux" (little men drawn from life by Dusart, 251 items), possibly a reference to these male figures.
Although Dusart signed his finest examples and sold them as independent works of art, many that he kept for creating new works have been conserved in this way. For example the drawing discussed here served as an aide-mémoire in composing a mezzotint, a graphic print from a copper plate with varying transitions between light and dark. Dusart's knowledge of this technique, first applied about 1650, reveals once again his particular interest in light in all its gradations.
Pipe Smoker (1684)
— Flutist (1680; 850x1045pix without frame, 401kb)
— Le Violon Assis (etching 28x25cm) _ Rusticus ex animo, non pullus Hypocrita, gaudet.
— The Village Surgeon (1895 etching 26x18cm) _ HEESMEESTER / De duyvel, Meester Hans, is dat myn arm verbinden! / Riep Teuwes; oy die schreeu trok Griet een schere bek. / Je praat zo wat; zei Hans, ik moet het kwaad eerst rinden, / Zal ik 't geneezen: wel hoe baarje, ben je gek?.
Born on 24 April 1904: Willem
de Kooning, 92, in East Hampton NY, Dutch US Abstract
Expressionist painter who died on 19 March 1997, husband of Elaine
Fried de Kooning [12 Mar 1920 01 Feb 1989]
De Kooning is one of the greatest Abstract Expressionist painters of the post-World War II period, his dominance rivaled perhaps only by Jackson Pollock. Remembered for his large canvases as well as the controversial melding of both abstract and figurative imagery, de Kooning lived much longer than his contemporaries, many of whom had untimely deaths. The group of painters that would be identified as the New York School was made up of de Kooning and contemporaries such as Arshile Gorky [15 Apr 1904 21 Jul 1948] and Edgar Denby, and they helped to establish New York City’s reputation as a center for artistic activity.
Although his work appears spontaneous, de Kooning often spent many months on a single piece, repeatedly painting over completed sections and occasionally pressing newspaper onto the drying canvas. Friend and New Yorker critic Harold Rosenberg first used the term “Action painting” to refer to de Kooning’s violent slashes of color and the shifting foreground and background typical of his abstract work. “Painting isn’t just the visual thing that reaches your retina,” the artist once said, “it’s what’s behind it. I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or an idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s different from mine as long as it comes from the painting which has its own integrity and intensity.”
Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, Holland. Both of his parents were involved in the sale of alcohol, his father as a distributor, and his mother as the proprietor of a bar. De Kooning’s parents separated when he was five, and after a brief period in which he lived with his father (with whom he was very close), his mother demanded that he live with her. The future painter’s artistic talents were evident even in childhood, and at the age of 12 he left school to apprentice with Jan and Jaap Giding, the proprietors of a large commercial art firm. When de Kooning had completed his training in traditional arts and crafts, the Gidings assisted him in enrolling in the Academie Voor Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschapen, where he attended evening classes for the next eight years (1916-1924). De Kooning graduated from the Academy in 1924, having received certification as both an artist and craftsperson. As a young man, de Kooning became familiar with the work of Walt Whitman, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Piet Mondrian. He also admired a group of Dutch abstract artists known as DeStijl, who counted Theo Van Doesburg and Mondrian among their ranks, and whose work he had first encountered while working for the art director of a Rotterdam department store from 1920-1923.
De Kooning entered the United States in 1926 as a stowaway (he would not become a citizen of the U.S. until 1961), in the hope of becoming a commercial illustrator. Despite his complete unfamiliarity with the English language, he was able to find work as a freelance commercial artist and housepainter. De Kooning settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, an area with a sizable Dutch population. The following year, he moved to New York City, where he developed friendships with artists including Edward Denby, Stuart Davis, and Arshile Gorky. He shared a studio with Gorky, who, along with Pablo Picasso, came to be a major influence on the painter’s early work. In 1935, de Kooning found full-time employment through the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project, and in 1939 was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair to create a mural for the Hall of Pharmacy that he entitled Medicine. During this period, he also painted a series of portraits of men that included Self-Portrait with Imaginary Brother (1938), Two Men Standing (1938), and Glazier (1940).
In 1942, de Kooning met the painter Jackson Pollock, with whom he formed the Club, an artists’ group that met primarily at 39 East 8th Street. Many of the Abstract Expressionists also gathered at the Cedar Bar, where they socialized with artists and intellectuals such as the poet and art critic Frank O’Hara and painters Joan Mitchell and Hans Hofmann. De Kooning married fellow painter Elaine Marie Fried in December of 1942. Over the years, he and his wife often lived in separate homes for extended periods of time, but as he grew older, Elaine spent more time at his house in East Hampton, Long Island. Elaine de Kooning was a respected Abstract Expressionist artist and critic in her own right, most notable for her portraits. She painted two portraits of US President John F. Kennedy, and taught at universities such as Yale and Carnegie Mellon. Work on abstract black and white oil paintings, considered by some to be Willem de Kooning’s finest work, began in 1946; most of these works employed less expensive commercial paints made from enamel. One of these was Attic (1949). Another, Excavation (1950), was one of the first large-scale paintings of the period, and was credited with cementing Abstract Expressionism’s role as the most important form of its time.
1940s were years of great success for de Kooning. His first one-man show
took place in 1948 at New York’s Charles Egan Gallery and was a critical
success. It featured 10 abstract paintings, the majority of which had been
rendered in black and white. Around this time, influential art critic Clement
Greenberg named de Kooning one of the most important painters of the 20th
century. In June 1950, he was among six American artists (and, along with
Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, one of three Abstract Expressionist painters)
chosen by the Museum of Modern Art’s Alfred H. Barr for exhibition in the
25th Venice Biennale in Italy. The following April marked his second one-man
show; that year he also received, for Excavation, the $2000 Logan Medal
and Purchase Prize from The Art Institute of Chicago’s 60th Annual Survey
of American Painting. De Kooning was also among the artists chosen by the
Museum of Modern Art to represent the United States at the 27th Biennale
International in Venice, Italy.
In March 1953, the Sidney Janis Gallery presented an exhibit of de Kooning’s work that featured six large oil paintings and several pastel sketches of a seated woman. The Woman series marked a move toward figurative representation, an approach that had been rejected by most other artists and thinkers associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. The Museum of Modern Art bought the US works from the Venice exhibition for display in the New York museum’s 27th Biennale in 1954. The show focused on the work of Ben Shahn and de Kooning, and 27 of de Kooning’s paintings and drawings were available for view at the exhibit.
In the late 1950s, de Kooning painted a number of large landscapes depicting quick impressions of urban scenes and highways, including Gotham News (1956), Backyard on 10th Street (1956), and Montauk Highway (1958). The painter moved in 1961 to East Hampton, Long Island, which was a favored locale among painters of the period. There, he began work on a glass-walled studio that was not fully completed until 1969. In the mid-1960s, with works such as Clam Diggers (1964) and Singing Woman (1965), he returned to the subject of women, this time placing the female figure in abstract landscapes. De Kooning would revisit this subject matter throughout his career.
De Kooning’s later work focused on an extended examination of color and light, and he produced many untitled works that featured women and marine creatures, often employing unmixed colors. By the 1980s, a decade in which he completed over 300 pieces, his work took on a simpler form, emphasizing abstract orange, blue, and red lines that leapt from a canvas painted white. In this later work, de Kooning turned away from the influence of Picasso and began to look more toward the colorful silhouettes of late Matisse.
Although he had been a hard drinker for much of his life, de Kooning abstained from alcohol in his later years. As he aged, the artist also suffered from the short-term memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease; fortunately, the disease did not affect his technical ability. Of de Kooning’s generation of painters, he was one of the few to survive to old age: Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1948 and 1970, respectively, Jackson Pollock died in a car crash in 1956, and Franz Kline succumbed to a heart attack in 1962. De Kooning would not pass away until 1997, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
Willem de Kooning’s work, vibrant and sometimes aggressive, continues to inspire generations of painters. Through their choice of residence and lifestyle, he and the other members of the New York School of painting helped to establish New York City as a center for artistic activity. DeKooning’s particular use of gestural painting ensured that he will be remembered as one of the most original and startling artists of the 20th century.
In 1963, after more than four decades in New York City, Willem De Kooning moved permanently to Springs, on the far end of Long Island. The expansive landscape, with its North Atlantic light, low-lying dunes, surrounding water, and deep-green foliage and fields, reminded the artist of his native Holland. From the time he settled in Springs at the age of fifty-nine, de Kooning embarked on a body of work often thought to rival that of Monet in its fresh momentum. The reference points of his art, landscape, figure, and gestural abstraction, meld seamlessly together. Working exclusively during daylight hours in a large, open studio with floor-to-ceiling windows, de Kooning immersed himself in the subtleties of the steely gray-green landscape and luxuriated in the quality of the light and colors there. In contrast to his heroic and often turbulent earlier canvases, these late paintings reflect his joyous response to nature. Nature, for him, is at once edenic yet soulful; the transience of the pleasures he celebrates is always keenly present.
(Blood and the Torso) (Wall next to the suicide bombing)
Woman 1 (1952; 1000x758pix, 230kb _ ZOOM to 1400x1050pix) _ De Kooning described the figurative motif of this painting not as a representation but as a thing slapped on the canvas, liberating him from formal anxieties. Woman I "did one thing for me: it eliminated composition, arrangement, relationships, light, because that [motif] was the one thing I wanted to get hold of. I thought I might as well stick to the idea that it's got two eyes, a nose and mouth and neck."
Eyes as big as grenades, teeth grinning violently, huge limbs, mountainous breasts - this "woman" is exaggeratedly, absurdly physical and at the same time not there at all, a spewed monster of fantasy, a crude graffito that took two anguished years to paint. Pink legs stick out of a red and yellow white-flecked inferno of skirt, the white clouds of the bosom float in de Kooning's mind as apocalyptically remote as the bride that hangs above the bachelors in Duchamp's Large Glass.
This is a ballad of sexual frustration. If you had to visualise de Kooning's relationship to the woman, you would picture him trying to make polite conversation, or ignoring her sitting across from him on the subway, while desire pounded his brain.
It is a comic painting, in contrast to the tragic vision of a Rothko or late Pollock, but it would be missing the point to see it as "figurative" in the British sense; on the contrary, it opens up new areas of erotic, everyday life to abstract art. Compare it with Bacon or Freud and you see how remote this painting is from the melancholy of traditional figuration. There is no body here. The woman is a woman in the painter's mind - a fabulation of colour and brushwork, with the splattered, pushed, released paint telling us unequivocally that it is a furiously sexual vision.
Despite the fierce heterosexuality of Woman I , the artists who first followed de Kooning into this new space between abstraction and the real world dealt in sexual ambiguity - Rauschenberg's Combines with their louche brushwork and dangled images and Twombly's savagely eroticised paintings such as Bay of Naples (1961). Closer in spirit to de Kooning's lusty cartoon are Oldenburg's fantasies of mass-produced consumables inflated, sexualised. The giant lipstick he mounted on caterpillar tracks might belong to de Kooning's Woman 1.
— Night (1948, 58x71cm; 880x1120pix, 793kb _ ZOOM to 1794x2283pix) _ The forms of Night are rich with suggestion. Some vaguely resemble human anatomy, while others recall architecture. These ambiguous shapes seem to float and jostle on the picture's surface. Night belongs to a series of abstract black-and-white paintings, inspired by de Kooning's late-night walks in New York, that express the spirit and texture of the modern metropolis. The broken brushwork and areas of scraping and reworking suggest the nervous energy of urban life, or the inner turmoil of the artist. De Kooning was one of the most emotionally expressive Abstract Expressionists and an important influence on younger gestural painters.
Untitled, 1985 (196x223cm) (Two Dancers) _ De Kooning returned again and again to the image of woman. The idyllic bacchanals of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Rubens were inspirations for him. In contrast to the aggressive femme fatales who peer at the viewer in his 1950s canvases, however, his late women are earthy (and at times ironically caricatured) sun-drenched nymphs cavorting amid the seaside landscape. De Kooning’s canvases of the 1980s are concise. The flow of his gesture is closely related to the economic line of his drawings rather than to the material mass of brushstrokes. In Untitled, 1985, the calligraphy simultaneously evokes windswept organic forms and two women (seen from front and back), arms interlocked and legs in dancelike attitude. The swaying movement recalls Matisse’s bucolic masterpiece The Dance, whose unbridled view of female sensuality, observed from a distance as if at a performance, de Kooning shares. With the artist’s advancing age, voluptuousness also takes on a redemptive edge; he said, “I think of woman as being light, soaring upward instead of heavily attached to the ground.”