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The Art Story Homepage Artists Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning Photo

Elaine de Kooning

American Art Critic and Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: March 12, 1918 - Brooklyn, New York

Died: February 1, 1989 - Southampton, New York

Elaine de Kooning Timeline

"Inspiration is indispensable to my work, but it is hard to come by. It is there or it is not; it is a gift of the gods."

Elaine de Kooning Signature

Summary of Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning was a prolific artist, art critic, portraitist, and teacher during the height of the Abstract Expressionists era and well beyond. Although her early career was overshadowed by that of Willem de Kooning, her husband, Elaine's artistic range, vast knowledge of media, and influence on fellow artists was undeniable. Many of her so-called pure abstract paintings were produced during the 1950s. Early in her career much of her work was composed of watercolors and still-lifes, and later much of her art fused abstraction with mythology, primitive imagery, and realism. Elaine de Kooning's work continues to receive increasing critical attention as she was, without question, one of the most important art teachers to have worked in the 20th century.

Key Ideas

While Elaine de Kooning did use gestural brushstrokes in most of her work, much in the tradition of the "action" painters, Elaine's work was figurative and representational, at least to some degree, and her canvases were rarely purely abstract (in the vein of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock).
As an avid world traveler, de Kooning was exposed to and inspired by a wide variety of art work that helped make her one of the more diverse artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement; she experimented with sculpture, etchings and subject matter inspired by cave drawings, all in addition to her wealth of painting, which included everything from watercolors and still lifes to abstractions and formal portraits.
Elaine and Willem de Kooning endured a long and, at times, very tumultuous marriage. As much as each artist benefited from one another's paintings and teachings, they mutually suffered due to constant infidelities and struggles with alcoholism.
Elaine de Kooning Photo

Elaine de Kooning was born Elaine Marie Catherine Fried in 1918 (although she would later claim her birth year was 1920), to Marie and Charles Frank Fried, a plant manager for the Bond Bread Company in Brooklyn, NY. She was the first of four children who were all raised in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. Elaine's younger sister, Marjorie, once recalled that their mother was not the most attentive and loving parent, but she did instill in her children a love for the arts, often taking them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to several Broadway shows.

Important Art by Elaine de Kooning

The below artworks are the most important by Elaine de Kooning - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Self-Portrait (1946)
Artwork Images Google images

Self-Portrait (1946)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the mid 1940s, Elaine and Willem were poorer than ever, and both were experiencing great difficulty in selling any work. In an effort to make money, de Kooning painted this realist self-portrait and sold it to her sister for a sum of $20, which she described at the time as "good money." The pseudo-abstract touches in this otherwise classical portrait are very much in the style of artist Fairfield Porter, who was a close friend of the de Koonings.

Oil on masonite - The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Fairfield Porter #1 (1954)
Artwork Images Google images

Fairfield Porter #1 (1954)

Artwork description & Analysis: This portrait of Fairfield Porter, unlike her earlier self-portrait, indicates a greater sense of gestural abstraction, and even visual elements of what Harold Rosenberg called "Action Painting." Elaine de Kooning evidently took more risks with this portrait by pulling her subject closer into the foreground (confronting Porter's physical vulnerability, in a sense), yet abstracting his face in a similar manner to the surrounding background. The end result is subtly haunting, and is a stunning balance of color and shade.

Oil on canvas - Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection

Sunday Afternoon (1957)
Artwork Images Google images

Sunday Afternoon (1957)

Artwork description & Analysis: Shortly after receiving her professorship at the University of New Mexico, her friend, poet Margaret Randall, escorted de Kooning to Juarez, Mexico to visit the bullfights. De Kooning was captivated by the movements and colors of her new surroundings. This abstracted portrait of a bull, structured by gestural waves rendered in the warm tones of a desert landscape, was also among some the very first horizontal canvases created by de Kooning.

Oil on masonite - Ciba-Geigy Corporation, New York

More Elaine de Kooning Artwork and Analysis:

John F. Kennedy (1963) Bacchus #3 (1978) Cave #54, Sand Wall (1985)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Elaine de Kooning
Interactive chart with Elaine de Kooning's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Milton ResnickMilton Resnick
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Franz KlineFranz Kline
Fairfield PorterFairfield Porter

Personal Contacts

Soren KierkegaardSoren Kierkegaard
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Meyer SchapiroMeyer Schapiro
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Edwin DenbyEdwin Denby

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
SuprematismSuprematism
SurrealismSurrealism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning
Years Worked: 1936 - 1989
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Grace HartiganGrace Hartigan
Larry RiversLarry Rivers
Ray JohnsonRay Johnson
Mercedes MatterMercedes Matter
Alexander NeyAlexander Ney

Personal Contacts

Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess
Barbara RoseBarbara Rose
Dore AshtonDore Ashton
Samuel KootzSamuel Kootz
Leo CastelliLeo Castelli

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Action PaintingAction Painting
PhotorealismPhotorealism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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