Aquatint etching. Crown Point Press, San Francisco. Edition of 25
Hand signed in pencil. Torchlight Cave Drawing
Image size: seven measure 12 x 15" one measures 8 x 11". Paper size: 20 x 26¼
Elaine Marie Catherine de Kooning (née Fried) 1918 – 1989 was an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist artist 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. She was married to the painter and sculptor Willem de Kooning. 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.
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. She was an early feminist artist.
They showed 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. In 1952 she spent the summer at Art dealer Leo Castelli's house at The Hamptons with Willem de Kooning. In April 1954 Elaine presented her first Solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery. Women were often marginalized in the Abstract Expressionism 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 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.
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 (Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Perle Fine, Jay DeFeo and others) "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.
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. 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.
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. Elaine employed a wide range of virtuosic drawing and painting techniques: finely detailed pencil drawings and more free ink drawings, cross hatching, erasure, stumping, and improvisational graphic lines, thin paint and impasto with many media: pencil, ink, charcoal, gouache, collage, mixed media, oil on paper, canvas and masonite.
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 Washington, DC. 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.
Selected solo exhibitions
1954, 1956: Stable Gallery, New York;
1957: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York;
1960, 1963, 1965, 1975: Graham Gallery, New York;
1964: "25 Portraits of J.F.K.", Peale House Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia,
2015: "Elaine de Kooning: Portraits", National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
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.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery