Throughout the 1950s, de Kooning gradually spent more time on Long Island until moving permanently in 1963 to a new home and studio in Springs, a small hamlet in East Hampton on the far tip of Long Island, nearby Montauk and close to the dwellings of many artists, including Jackson Pollock. Moved by the brilliant light and natural colors of his newfound surroundings, de Kooning selected a range of glistening hues borrowed from this idyllic landscape of sun, grass, sand, sea, and sky. Montauk III arrived at a critical moment in de Kooning’s career, as the change in his environment inspired a renaissance in the artist’s mood and aesthetic impulses. As the legs of the main figure distend diagonally across the composition, bending in motion as if mid-swim, the broad reflective fields of color that cushion her impel weightlessness, suggestive of submersion in water. In contrast to the brusquer works of the 1950s, the superstructure of the females in landscapes of the early 1960s is not as overt; whiplash line is replaced by large areas of freely brushed color. A strong sense of bright sunlight permeates the palette, and the brushstrokes are more languid and liquid. De Kooning undoes gravity to achieve the painting’s irresistible transcendence. Speaking to critic Harold Rosenberg in 1971, de Kooning described the light in Springs that drove the renewed vigor of his painting at this moment: “When the light hits the ocean there is a kind of a grey light on the water… Indescribable tones, almost. I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted… I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in. It was like the reflection of light. I reflected upon the reflections on the water, like the fishermen do.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, de Kooning: A Retrospective, 2011, p. 352)
Of the five known paintings that de Kooning executed in 1969, all are titled Montauk and three are held in important international collections: Montauk I in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut; Montauk IV in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; and Montauk V in the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, Florida. From this remarkable series, Montauk III is second only in size to Montauk I, which at 88 by 77 inches is the artist’s largest painting since Easter Monday from 1956. Throughout the 1960s, de Kooning created several paintings of abstracted women whose fleshy outlines melt into this seaside and sun-drenched landscape, but the vast majority consisted of smaller easel-sized paintings on paper and canvas, usually no larger than five by four feet. The Montauk series is rare for its larger scale and nearly square format, and is as much a culmination of the 1960s paintings as it is a prelude to the even more abstracted landscapes of the 1970s. John Elderfield notes that the Montauk paintings “continue de Kooning’s interest in the subject of figures in a landscape but brings his allover, abstract approach to the theme, initiated two years earlier in Two Figures in a Landscape, to its full potential, more completely deconstructing the figures into the slippery paint surface.“ (Ibid., p. 387) Within an elegant terrain of loosely applied brushstrokes, the central figure is tightly focused but fragmentary, rewarding close attention—an elongated turquoise foot seems to perch at the bottom left of the composition, while underdrawing just above the figure’s right thigh suggests the possible presence of a flexing elbow.
Writing to the legendary art collectors and de Kooning patrons Joseph and Olga Hirshhorn in January 1969, the artist described his progress on one of the Montauk paintings, which he did not identify: “I am working for weeks and weeks on end on a large picture… and have to keep the paint wet… so that I can change it over and over—I mean, do the same thing over… and over, and that it will look fluid… and fresh—as if it was really a small picture.” (Ibid., p. 387) The present work is a testament to de Kooning’s career-long ability to negotiate the boundaries between figure and ground, abstraction and representation, while celebrating the fluidity of oil paint that allowed his forms to seemingly dematerialize within light and color. Just as the figure evaporates graciously into abstracted fields of paint, de Kooning’s life in Springs allowed him the freedom to roam his pastoral surroundings and become one with his environment—like Monet at Giverny, Montauk III is de Kooning’s Twentieth Century Nymphéas, a painting that captures the sheer translucency of daylight glimmering from within the heart of the painter.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale