Willem de Kooning
- Willem de Kooning
- oil and charcoal on paper mounted to canvas
- 41 1/4 x 57 3/4 inches
William Pall Fine Art, New York
Waddington Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1988
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning’s sumptuous Untitled from 1972 eschews resolution in favor of capturing the variability of life, shattering the border between figuration and abstraction in a rush of tactile pigment. Through every decade of his long and illustrious career, de Kooning kept a firm grip on the role of his medium as muse, and the glories of paint exhibited in Untitled, executed when the artist was nearly 70, is quintessential de Kooning, whose wrist, arm and body became one with the rhythms of his brush and palette knife. In the present work, the master painter’s slippery, limpid forms rendered in his soft, pliable pigment oscillate between the objective and the abstract, the composed and the agitated, all with the artist’s unmistakable vibrant color palette and brushwork. Untitled is exceptional for the force of its improvisational urgency, its emphatic mark-making, and its expressive spatters of paint, all conveyed in the warm and earthy hues of an utterly seductive palette.
Untitled is a testament to de Kooning’s career-long ability to negotiate the boundaries between figure and ground and abstraction and representation. Lustrous paint flows across the canvas, layering color upon color, as forms emerge and submerge within the complex compositional structure of the present work. Untitled is a testament to the artist’s unique ability to transmute the tactile pleasures of the female form and verdant landscape into the language and visceral plasticity of paint. Despite its gestural expressionism, the lush pictorial space evokes a distinct central figure, archetypal of the artist’s best-known creations. De Kooning famously said, “flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” and the presence of a female figure is never far from the artist’s lifelong relationship with paint. In contrast to the more agitated works of the 1950s, the superstructure of the females in the landscape is not as overt; de Kooning’s whiplash line is replaced by large areas of freely brushed color, which are gentle, languid, and associative.
The stirring beauty of Untitled is a clear expression of the inspiration de Kooning found in the natural splendor of his coastal environs at this stage in his life, when he moved away from the urban environment of Manhattan to live in East Hampton. The sunny corals, luscious greens, and soothing creams that sweep across the surface of the canvas exemplify the lyrical brushwork that characterized a significant shift in the artist’s work during this period. In the present work, de Kooning allows himself the freedom to create an enlarged perspective; every gesture and splatter is laid bare as colors, lines, and forms elide into one another. His complete activation of the surface creates a magnified pictorial space, inviting a singular closeness with the work.
The whole of Untitled is fully engaged in passages of colorful abstraction; like blooms opening in the sun, the full breadth of de Kooning’s mastery freely unfurls across the painted surface. The artist’s confidence in his craft at this mature stage in his career is clear in the emphatic strokes of paint that splash across the canvas, laid down with the bold certainty that accompanies true mastery. His command of this gestural fluidity at this phase in his oeuvre attained a Pollock-like intuitive painterly abandon, while simultaneously maintaining complete control over the resultant whole. A potent hybrid of specificity and unbridled expression, Untitled is a truly exceptional embodiment of the emphatic mark-making and sheer force of painterly conviction that defines de Kooning’s important contributions to 20th century art.