A Life of Discovery: Works from The Allan Stone Collection | Contemporary Art Online

A Life of Discovery: Works from The Allan Stone Collection | Contemporary Art Online

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 7. WILLEM DE KOONING | UNTITLED (WOMAN).


Lot Closed

December 10, 05:07 PM GMT


70,000 - 90,000 USD

Lot Details



1904 - 1997


signed and inscribed Happy Birthday 28-3-1956 to Grace Bill  

graphite and traces of oil on paper

Sheet: 12⅞ by 11⅛ in. (32.7 by 28.3 cm)

Framed: 21 by 18½ in. (53.3 by 47 cm)

Executed circa 1950.

Please note that this work will be exhibited at Allan Stone Projects. Purchased items will be available for collection at Crozier Fine Arts, 1 Star Ledger Plaza, Newark, NJ as of Thursday, December 13th.

Of all the abstract painters exhibited and collected by Allan Stone, none is more closely associated with his program and expertise than the Abstract Expressionist giant Willem de Kooning. Allan Stone mounted numerous comprehensive exhibitions of de Kooning's work, and many of the most revered de Kooning paintings and works on paper in prestigious collections passed through Allan Stone's hands.

Untitled (Woman)circa 1950 , stands out as a powerful and aggressive piece among the drawings and studies of women that de Kooning produced. Having focused on black and white abstractions in the late 1940s and early 1950s, de Kooning returned to the theme of women during the early to mid-1950s (a vacillation between abstraction and figuration that would continue throughout his career). Indeed, it was during this period that he created Woman I (1950-52), a seminal work in the history of twentieth-century art that was ultimately purchased by the Museum of Modern Art. Untitled (Woman)circa 1950, is less "woman in landscape" like those of the 1940s and 1950s nor a "woman as landscape" like those of the 1960s, but rather a woman of pathos or pain, registered as destroyed or destroyer. Her torso is twisted in contrapposto, head wrenched or thrown back. Her oversized eyes display a ferocious intensity. Realized with an economy of means, she emerges out of the background, fleshed in white and black that has been smudged or partially erased. The rich and dense black strokes both establish the setting (by outlining fore and background), and birth the figure itself. As de Kooning explained in a 1956 interview, “I like beautiful women. In the flesh; even in magazines. Women irritate me sometimes. I painted that irritation in the Women series.” 

As indicated by the artist's dedication at the bottom left of the work, Untitled (Woman) was a birthday gift to the artist Grace Hartigan in early 1956. This dedication adds a unique biographical and contextual dimension. Hartigan was a friend of de Kooning, but also one of the few female artists counted among the infamous group of artists that included the mid-century Abstract Expressionists. “Hartigan was once the pre-eminent woman painter in New York of the 1950s–at a time when the art world numbered no more than several hundred artists, dealers, collections, (imperial) critics and very few women...‘She was, I would say, the woman who broke the glass [ceiling] then existent for women artists in the 50s,’ exhibition curator Norman Kleeblatt told the Observer. Hartigan was ‘as prominent as many of the male artists of the time, and she was in so many of the major exhibitions,’ he said, citing MoMA’s 12 Americans show of 1958 and the influential The New American Paintings of two years later”(Alex Taylor, ‘Grace Hartigan, New York Painter Who Broke Glass Ceiling, Dead at 86,’ New York Observer, Nov 17, 2008). De Kooning's conflicted relationship to women, reflected in this and so many of his most important works, ran parallel to the art establishment's equally conflicted view of women. This conflict resonates twofold in Untitled (Woman), at once an aggressive portrayal in its form and method, and also a demonstration of respect as a gift to the fellow female painter.

Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1904. As a youth, he spent nights studying at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. In 1926, de Kooning immigrated to the United States. While establishing himself among the group of ascendant Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning briefly taught at Black Mountain College and the Yale University School of Art. He painted voraciously from the 1940s through the late 1980s, when dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease halted his artistic production. Early shows at Charles Egan Gallery and Sidney Janis Gallery segued into large scale exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Posthumous exhibitions include a full-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2011, among smaller shows at Gagosian, Pace, and Allan Stone Gallery. During his lifetime, de Kooning received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Andrew W. Mellon Prize (1979), and the National Medal of Arts (1986). The Willem de Kooning Foundation was established in 2011 by Lisa de Kooning, the artist’s daughter. De Kooning passed away in 1997, at his home in East Hampton, New York.