Elaine de Kooning continues to steadily emerge from the shadow of her teacher and husband, Willem de Kooning, as an important artist in her own right. Her work is highly representative of her dedication to the traditional academic approach as well as her passion for non-conventional methods and styles most intimately associated with the New York School and Abstract Expressionists.
Throughout every aspect of her life, Elaine showed tremendous tenacity, dedication, and skillfulness. During the 1940’s and 50’s she positioned herself among the most critically acclaimed artists and creative minds of the period, among them Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, John Graham, Merce Cunningham, and critics Tom Hess, Harold Rosenberg, and Clement Greenberg. In addition to her own pursuit as an artist, Elaine dedicated a significant part of her life to relentlessly promoting the talent of her husband, as she skillfully positioned herself as an art critic for major art magazines and a lecturer within various art communities.
While distracted by her promotion of Willem’s career and his overshadowing success, her talent as an accomplished abstract artist was still recognized by many major galleries and museums. The 1950’s were an artistically prosperous time for Elaine, as she secured several solo exhibitions at notable galleries such as the Stable Gallery and the Graham Gallery and also participated in numerous noteworthy shows including the Ninth Street Show, 1951, Young American Painters at the MoMA, 1956, and Artists of the NY School: 2nd Generation at the Jewish Museum, 1957. She was included in the Ten Best list in ArtNews in 1956 as well as the Great Expectations I article written by Thomas Hess that same year.
Following her separation in 1957, Elaine left New York for a teaching appointment as visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico. This gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in the characteristic color and space of the Southwestern landscape. Following her impressionable visit to Juarez, Mexico where she attended many bullfights, Elaine’s palette shifted to bolder and brighter colors, and her format changed from the typical vertical orientation to the horizontal. Her studio burst with energetic paintings based on the bullfights and the expansive Southwestern landscape. In 1961 her work was included in the Whitney Annual.
Elaine would continue painting in an abstract manner for the rest of her life, with the only exception being her renowned portraits. Her ability as an exceptional portrait artist was confirmed with her commission to paint a series of portraits of President John F. Kennedy for the Truman Library in 1963, just before his death. Her mastery of this genre is exemplified in her ability to effectively convey a feeling, a gesture, a sense of likeness about the person as opposed to their physicality. She wavered between precisely configured portraits and those of extreme abstraction, many times faceless. No matter the approach, whether figurative, abstract, or both, the character of Elaine’s subjects were always alive with a personality unique to themselves.
Throughout her career Elaine’s gallery, museum, and peer recognition were strong, but like other female artists living in the shadow of their famous husbands, only now is her work beginning to receive the market recognition long overdue.
The Trusted Gallery Network®
FADA takes pride in being an exclusive association of independent fine art galleries presenting an encyclopedic inventory of curated artworks covering the gamut of the art world. If you’d like to hear from us every once in a while about FADA events, new artwork and other timely news, please sign up below. We’ll make sure not to clog your inbox!