Lot 206
  • 206

Willem de Kooning

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Willem de Kooning
  • Untitled
  • signed
  • oil and charcoal on paper mounted to canvas
  • 42 1/8 by 58 1/8 in. 107 by 147.6 cm.
  • Executed circa 1972.


Private Collection, New York
William Pall Fine Art, New York
Waddington Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1988


This work is in very good condition overall. The edges of the canvas are taped. There are artist’s pinholes in each corner. The sheet has discolored slightly with age and the extreme edges have darkened slightly. There is evidence of light wear and handling along the edges, including a minor tear and lifting to the paper along the top edge towards the left in the brown-painted area and a minor loss to the lower right corner. Under very close inspection, three minor horizontal abrasions are visible at the left edge and scattered small, round transparent drip accretions are visible near the artist’s signature, possibly from the time of execution. The colors are bright, fresh and clean. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, there is no evidence of restoration. This work is exhibited unframed but is accompanied by a frame.
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

"I wanted to get back to a feeling of light in painting...I wanted to get in touch with nature. Not painting scenes from nature, but to get a feeling of that light that was very appealing to me, here particularly."
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.