Lot 14
  • 14

Willem De Kooning

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Willem de Kooning
  • Large Torso
  • incised with the artist's signature and number 6/7 and stamped with the foundry mark Modern Art Foundry New York
  • bronze
  • 34 x 32 x 25 in. 86.4 x 81.3 x 63.5 cm.
  • Executed in 1974, this work is number 6 from an edition of 7 plus two artist's proofs.


Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in July 1980


Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts; St. Louis, Washington University Gallery of Art, De Kooning: Drawings/Sculptures, March 1974 - June 1975, cat. no. 151, fig. 69, illustrated (clay model in photograph) (edition unknown)
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 72nd American Exhibition, March 1976, cat. no. 6 (edition no. 2/7)
Los Angeles, James Corcoran Gallery, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, Drawings Sculpture, May - June 1976, no. 25 (edition no. 4/7)
East Hampton, Guild Hall, East Hampton Artists, August - October 1976 (edition no. 5/7)
Austin, University of Texas, De Kooning: Lithographs, Sculpture and Painting, October - November 1976, no. 8 (edition no. 2/7)
New York, Fourcade, Droll, De Kooning, New Paintings, October -November 1976 (edition unknown)
Houston, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery, De Kooning: Recent Works, January - February 1977 (edition no. 2/7)
Paris, Galerie Templon, Willem de Kooning: peintures et sculptures récentes, September - October 1977 (edition no. 1/7)
Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery; London, Serpentine Gallery, The Sculptures of de Kooning with  related paintings, drawings, &  lithographs, October 1977 - January 1978, cat. no. 25, illustrated (edition unknown)
New York, Xavier Fourcade, Large Scale Small Scale, April - June 1978 (edition no. 7/7)
Düsseldorf, Stadtische Kunsthalle; Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'art Moderne, The Strange Nature of Money, November 1977 - September 1979 (edition unknown)
The Artist at Work in America, (travelling exhibition to Romania organized by the International Communications Agency), May - August 1979 (edition no. 4/7)
New York, Xavier Fourcade Inc., Willem de Kooning: Recent Paintings, October - November 1979 (edition unknown)
Seattle, Richard Hines Gallery, Willem de Kooning, January - February 1980 (edition no. 7/7)
New York, Xavier Fourcade, Willem de Kooning: The Complete Sculptures, 1969 - 1981, May - June 1983 (edition unknown)
New York, Matthew Marks Gallery and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Willem de Kooning: Drawings and Sculpture, October - December 1998, pl. no. 67, illustrated (edition unknown)
Baden-Baden, Foundation Frieder Burda, Eroffrungsdusstellung Sammlung Frieder Burda, October 2004 - February 2005 (edition no. AP 1/2)


Exh. Cat., New York, Fourcade, Droll, De Kooning- New Works: Paintings and Sculpture, 1975, pl. no. 26, illustrated (edition 1/7)
Exh. Cat., Palm Beach, The Norton Gallery of Art, De Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture 1967 - 1975, 1975, cat. no. 30, illustrated (edition no. 1/7)
Jane Bell, "Willem de Kooning's New Work", Arts Magazine, November 1975, p. 80, illustrated (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, De Kooning - New Works: Paintings and Sculpture, 1976, cat. no. 26, illustrated (edition no. 4/7)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (and travelling), De Kooning: Sculpture and Lithographs, 1976, cat. no. B-25, illustrated (edition no. 3/7)
Jan Juffermans, "Woede, haat en liefde in verwrongen figuren", De Nieuwe Linie, March 17, 1976, p. 9, illustrated (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton, 1963 -1977, 1978, cat. no. 97, p. 128, illustrated (edition no. AP 1/2)
Exh. Cat., New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture - Brancusi to Lichtenstein, 1978, n.p., illustrated (edition no. 7/7)
Exh. Cat., Cedar Falls, Iowa, University of Northern Iowa (and travelling), De Kooning: 1969 - 1978, 1978, cat. no. 39, p. 49, illustrated (edition no. 7/7)
Jack Cowart, "de Kooning Today", Art International, Summer 1979, p. 12, illustrated (edition no. 3/7)
Exh. Cat., Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Willem de Kooning: Pittsburgh International Series, 1979, cat. no. 128, p. 145, illustrated (edition no. 4/7)
Matthew Kangas, "De Kooning", Argus, February 29, 1980, p. 6, illustrated (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning Works from 1951 - 1981, 1981, cat. no. 73, p. 113 (edition no. AP 1/2)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (and travelling), Willem de Kooning, 1983, cat. no. 73, illustrated (edition no. 3/7)
Harry F. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1983, fig. 92, p. 101, illustrated (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Willem de Kooning, 1983, fig. 280, p. 264, illustrated (Whitney catalogue), p. 268, illustrated (Berlin catalogue) and p.167, illustrated (Pompidou catalogue) (edition no. 7/7)
Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Willem de Kooning Painting and Sculpture 1971 - 1983, 1984, cat. no. 21, illustrated (edition no. 2/7)
Philippe Sollers, De Kooning, Vite II (Œuvres), Paris, 1988, pl. 81, n.p., illustrated in color
Diane Waldman, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1988, fig. no. 95, p. 123, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Willem de Kooning Sculpture, 1996, fig. 25, p. 58, illustrated (edition unknown)


This sculpture is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at 212-606-7254 for a condition report prepared by Wilson Conservation.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Other than Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning is the only Abstract Expressionist painter to produce a major sculptural oeuvre. For both artists, sculpture served to distill the most quintessential nature of their art: in the case of de Kooning, his role as a master of kinetic touch is rendered every bit as eloquently in bronze as in oil paint. Even more than in his sweeping gestural oils, the viewer can sense the artist's entire body – fingers, muscles, tendons and joints - in the creation of his most important sculptures, such as Large Torso.  De Kooning's first experiments with sculpture, in the course of five years and with growing confidence, became a major artistic enterprise that produced extraordinary works that rival his paintings in originality and scope. In the words of William Tucker: "De Kooning is the latest and ... the last of the series of great painters whose occasional work in three dimensions has enriched and even transformed the sculpture of the modern period." (Exh. Cat., New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Willem de Kooning Sculpture, 1996, p. 45).

While in Rome in 1969, de Kooning met Herzl Emanuel, an old friend who had a bronze foundry in Trastevere. On Emanuel's invitation, de Kooning visited the foundry and produced a series of thirteen small, experimental clay sculptures. These were each cast in bronze in editions of six, and sent to his New York dealer after de Kooning's return. Henry Moore came across the thirteen sculptures in Xavier Fourcade's gallery, and praising them, encouraged de Kooning to expand into a more ambitious scale. De Kooning followed his advice, and for the next five years produced a series of larger works.

Large Torso dates from 1974 and, along with the full-figured Clamdigger and Hostess, is one of the grandest figurative sculptures created by de Kooning. Of the original 13 clay Roman figures, de Kooning chose to enlarge and cast Seated Woman upon his return to New York in 1969. Pleased with the outcome de Kooning modeled and cast eleven new figures from 1972 - 1974 that culminated in Large Torso.  Knotted, curling sinews of bronze wind themselves through the face, torso and hands of the figure, veritably seducing the viewer into touching the surface and following the muscle sense of the artist's presence in the working of the sculpture. Its surface reads like a map of the work's creation: grooves and hollows where de Kooning's fingertips dug into the soft clay, smooth areas where his thumb rubbed a trough or raised a crest, and even craters left by the impact of a rolling pin. As Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan put it in their Pulitzer Prize winning biography of de Kooning, it's "not just touch as it's often defined in the art books, as something specifically fine that only a connoisseur can appreciate, but touch as the visceral act of pushing and squeezing and shaping" (Willem de Kooning: An American Master, New York, 2004, p. 549)

We can see how the figure has been created, starting from the armature supporting the soft flesh of the sculpture, while de Kooning added fistful after fistful of clay, its lumpish form slowly filling out into the completed work. This visual memory of its creation gives the work a sense of evolution, as if we might see further lumps slowly emerge from its surface.  The downward pull of the figure's visage and the outsized hands also give this work a sense of weighty presence. De Kooning would work with foundries in the 1980s to cast three of his figures into mid-size and monumental outdoor sculptures, but the power of his touch is more clearly and insistently felt in the large, hand-modeled works such as Large Torso.

Total engagement with the material – with the substance in his hands – is the most striking feature of de Kooning's aesthetic soul. When painting he didn't constrict the paint to his will; instead the pigment flows and swirls across the canvas, as he breathes life into his medium rather than imprisoning it. The faithfulness to the nature of his material extends to his sculptures, where the clay retains its primal heaviness as well as its pliable softness – now become illusory in the bronze. As a way of moderating this intense relation with the material and to break established habits and gestures, de Kooning often painted and sculpted with his eyes closed or – especially in the larger sculptures such as Large Torso – while wearing gloves. The gloves helped to expand his gesture, to make each tug, push and caress bolder and stronger. 

Unlike standing Hostess and Clamdigger, the present work is similar to the classic portrait busts of the Renaissance. Despite his status as an iconic founder of Abstract Expressionism, de Kooning never abandoned the figure or the landscape in his oeuvre, defiantly retaining vestiges of the Western Art tradition of his youth and student days in Northern Europe. The expressive character of Large Torso, its engaging and even comical humanity, is a tribute to classical busts while it bursts beyond the constrictions of that time into a full-blooded modern form.  One of the last and most accomplished sculptures that de Kooning made, Large Torso stands at the extraordinary climax of an adventure that was as brilliant as it was brief, the perfect extension of the artist's painting into the solidity of a third dimension.