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ELAINE DE KOONING (1918-1989)

 
ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in. ELAINE DE KOONING - Bill Brown - oil on canvas - 32 1/8 x 20 in.
Bill Brown195432 1/8 x 20 in.(81.28 x 50.17 cm) oil on canvas
Provenance
Hacket-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco
with Childs Gallery, Boston
Private Collection, Kansas, 2019
Exhibition
1999 Elaine de Kooning Portraits, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, New York
2003 Elaine de Kooning, Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, California
 
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“I’m more interested in character. Character comes out of the work. Style is applied or imposed on it.” – Elaine de Kooning

History

How do we convey friendship? A complex question deserves a complex answer, and this painting by Elaine de Kooning of close friend and fellow artist William Theophilus Brown rises to the occasion.

This portrait is part of de Kooning’s “faceless men” series created between 1947-1956 in which she paints male friends and family with blurred visages. A cacophony of color and lines coalesce into a towering image. The work challenges us to think about the qualities that make up a portrait. Is it more than just a likeness? Gesture and shape inform more about the sitter than the face. The psychology and personality of the sitter take precedence over physical likeness. Deft and quick brushstrokes characterize Elaine de Kooning’s process. Known as “the fastest brush in the East”, she would develop a dynamic language of figuration within abstraction.

“A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun,” she famously declared, “an event first and only secondarily an image.” And so, this work is an event – the interpretation by the artist of her sitter and of her friend. In painting portraits, in general and of men, de Kooning consciously rejected normal conventions, giving her own vision of masculinity and upending who and how male portraits are created and consumed.

More
  • EdK38842_history1
    Elaine de Kooning in her studio at work on a series of portraits of President John F. Kennedy, c. 1964.
  • EdK38842_history2
    Theophilus Brown in his Berkeley studio, c. 1955-56.
  • EdK38842_history3
    Seated Man (1971), by Theophilus (Bill) Brown, an influential artist of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and a prolific portraitist.
  • EdK38842_history4
    Elaine and Willem de Kooning, 1953.
“For one thing, I want gesture- any kind of gesture, all kinds of gesture- gentle or brutal, joyous or tragic; the gesture of space soaring, sinking, streaming, whirling; the gestures of light flowing or spurting through color. I see everything as possessing or possessed by gesture.” – Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery

"Thomas Hess #1" (1956), oil on masonite, 22 7/8 x 15 ¾ in.
“Thomas Hess #1” (1956), oil on masonite, 22 7/8 x 15 ¾ in.
"John F. Kennedy" (1963), oil on canvas, 102 ½ x 44 in.
“John F. Kennedy” (1963), oil on canvas, 102 ½ x 44 in.
"Willem de Kooning" (c. 1952), oil on panel, 38 5/8 x 25 ½ in.
“Willem de Kooning” (c. 1952), oil on panel, 38 5/8 x 25 ½ in.
"Harold Rosenberg #3" (1956), oil on canvas, 80 x 59 in.
“Harold Rosenberg #3” (1956), oil on canvas, 80 x 59 in.

Elaine de Kooning Portraits in Other Museum Collections

"Fairfield Porter" (1954), oil on canvas, 48 x 31 7/8 in., Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri
“Fairfield Porter” (1954), oil on canvas, 48 x 31 7/8 in., Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri
"Michael Sonnabend" (1951), oil on canvas, 65 5/16 x 32 in., Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
“Michael Sonnabend” (1951), oil on canvas, 65 5/16 x 32 in., Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
"Bill at St. Mark’s" (1956), oil on canvas, 73 x 43 in., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec, Canada
“Bill at St. Mark’s” (1956), oil on canvas, 73 x 43 in., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec, Canada
“Inspiration is indispensable to my work, but it is hard to come by. It is there or it is not; it is a gift of the gods.” – Elaine de Kooning

Image Gallery

Additional Resources

In “Portrait in a Minute”, Brandon Fortune, Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., discusses Elaine de Kooning.
Explore the 2015-2016 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Elaine de Kooning: Portraits. The show featured de Kooning’s paintings of her friends and contemporaries, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Harold Rosenberg, and many others.
Watch “Elaine de Kooning Paints a Portrait”, directed and produced by Betty Jean Thiebaud to see archival footage of the artist at work and describing her approach to portrait painting.

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