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Artists Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning Photo

Elaine de Kooning

American Art Critic and Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: March 12, 1918 - Brooklyn, New York

Died: February 1, 1989 - Southampton, New York

Elaine de Kooning Timeline


"I made my first trip west of the Hudson and it was a revelation. The naked musculature of the Rockies was overpowering and my painting responded."
Elaine de Kooning
"Bill and I sort of started going out and he was teaching me. Bill's studio was just one painting on his canvas or maybe a few others. But Gorky overwhelmed me with the sense of profusion. There were paintings all around. Overwhelming, I thought, I have come as the crow flies to the real artists in America. I didn't know any artists, but I just knew there couldn't be anyone better than these guys."
Elaine de Kooning
"Every artist returns to things. The drawings that you make as a child or as an adolescent and the ideas that you have as a young beginning artist, no doubt they crop up again and again."
Elaine de Kooning
"I would say from 1945 to 1950, Bill and I just had a bottomless appetite for detective novels, and we just all had read all of them. Bill Baziotes was the real expert and he would keep discovering them and saying, 'Have you read ___.' And Bill and I would read them, and then exchange them, and Rothko too. And often at these parties at Yvonne Thomas's, the discussion would not be about art. It would be about the comparative merits of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler."
Elaine de Kooning

"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


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

Childhood and Education

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.

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Elaine de Kooning Biography Continues

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

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

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

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:

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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


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


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Elaine de Kooning
Elaine de Kooning
Years Worked: 1936 - 1989
Influenced by Artist


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


Pop ArtPop Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Useful Resources on Elaine de Kooning





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Elaine and Bill Recomended resource

By Lee Hall

Originals: American Women Artists

By Eleanor Munro

written by artist

Spirit of Abstract Expressionism: Selected Writings Recomended resource

By Rose Slivka, Elaine De Kooning

Elaine De Kooning: Essays by Lawrence Campbell, Helen a Harrison, Rose Slivka

By Elaine De Kooning

Elaine de Kooning Birthday: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Great Abstract Expressionist

The Huffington Post
March 12, 2013

Elaine de Kooning, Artist and Teacher, Dies at 68 Recomended resource

By Grace Glueck
The New York Times
February 2, 1989

Two Exhibits Show Little-Known Work of Elaine de Kooning

By John Dorsey
The Baltimore Sun
January 17, 1993

Elaine de Kooning

Cline LewAllen Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM
August 1 - September 21, 1997


Interview with Elaine de Kooning

Conducted by Phyllis Tuchman
Smithsonian Archives of American Art
August 7, 1981

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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
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