DescriptionWillem de Kooning (1904-1997)
East Hampton II, 1968
Oil on paper laid on canvas
41-3/4 x 30 inches (106 x 76.2 cm)
Signed upper right: de Kooning
Collection of the artist;
Galerie Ressle, Stockholm, acquired from the above;
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1985;
Sotheby's London, February 15, 2011, lot 49;
Private collection, New York.
Knoedler Gallery, New York, "De Kooning: January 1968-March 1969," March 4-March 22, 1969;
[The above exhibition also traveled to] Powerhouse Gallery, University of California, Berkeley, California, August 12-September 13, 1969;
Pollock Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, "De Kooning: Major Paintings and Sculpture," 1974;
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, "De Kooning: Late Paintings and Drawings," 1980.
Gabriella Drudi, Willem de Kooning, Milan 1972, n.p., no. 149, illustrated in color.
East Hampton II (1968) not only exemplifies Willem de Kooning's fascination with the female figure, but also brings to light critical discussions regarding his representation of women. Here, a female figure emerges from an amalgam of sweeping brushstrokes in red, orange, yellow and blue. Subtle outlines distinguish her legs and body from her surroundings. The movement of the woman's body - her lifted legs and skirt -- hints at sexual pleasure. De Kooning painted the work in his longtime studio in East Hampton, where he focused on landscapes during his later years.
East Hampton II points to the critical discourse centered around the gender revolution of the 1960s. De Kooning's paintings of women from the 1950s, such as his famous Woman I (1950-52), were controversial for many reasons. Indeed, after years of working in pure abstraction, de Kooning reintroduced figuration in Woman I; some critics like Clement Greenberg considered these paintings a step backward, especially when contrasted with Jackson Pollock's non-representational drip paintings. Woman I and related female paintings also subjected de Kooning to accusations of misogyny. Responding to Thomas Hess' popular article "Willem de Kooning Paints a Picture" (1953), which describes the rough physicality of de Kooning's painting process, critic Emily Genauer commented that de Kooning "flays [the women], beats them, stretches them on racks, draws and quarters them" (1969). Similarly, the critic Carol Duncan wrote at the time that de Kooning's female figure "fully reveals itself in Woman I as a big, bad mama - vulgar, sexual, and dangerous.... The suggestive pose is just a knee movement away from...the self-exposing gesture of mainstream pornography" ("MOMA's Hot Mamas," 1989, p. 173). Furthermore, Duncan argued that "de Kooning knowingly and assertively exercises his patriarchal privilege of objectifying male sexual fantasy as high culture" (Ibid., p. 175). Similarly, Lise Vogel offered that de Kooning's Woman I "reveals the anxieties inside" men vis-à-vis increasingly powerful women ("Fine Arts and Feminism: The Awakening Consciousness," 1974, p. 19). One should mention, however, that comparable criticisms were directed at other Abstract Expressionists. In fact, Ann Eden Gibson recently proposed that "Abstract Expressionism's model for supposedly 'universal' subjectivity was actually white, heterosexual, and male" ("Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics," 1997, in E. Lendau, "Review of Abstract Expressionism and Other Politics," 1999, pp. 59-60).
However, Woman I and East Hampton II can be viewed in a more positive light. The blending of gestural abstraction and figuration is not specific to de Kooning's paintings of women. Earlier in his career, he also depicted men, whose figures he distorted and reassembled over flattened planes. Paintings like The Glazier (1940) reveal his struggle portraying hair and hands - leading to his habit of reworking certain areas of his paintings to make them look unfinished. Indeed, both the subject matter and techniques of Woman I grew from his earlier experimentation with the male figure.
One can also read Woman I and East Hampton II as reacting to the canonical representation of the female figure in art history. In fact, de Kooning was particularly inspired by the work of the Old Masters, such as Ingres' Odalisque (1814). But one can go even further and argue that his art reflected the zeitgeist, namely changing gender relations. For example, poststructuralist art historians like Fiona Barber and Judith Butler have revised the misogynistic interpretations of de Kooning's women and investigated "the increasing instability of the notion of 'woman' as a category .... The relationship between gender and identity is something that is...both variable and historically contingent" (F. Barber, "The Politics of Feminist Spectatorship and the Disruptive Body: De Kooning's Woman I Reconsidered," in A. Jones and A. Stephenson, Performing the Body/Performing the Text, 1999, p. 132).
Crucially, Barber describes how de Kooning's representation of the male body and of the female body have shifting, sometimes contradictory meanings. She notes that in Seated Figure (Classic Male) (1940), "de Kooning uses a charcoal line to define a solid muscularity contained with an ordered format reminiscent of the protecting armature of a breastplate...; the same line...also sweeps upwards to pick out delicate facial features more easily legible as signifiers of femininity" (Ibid., p. 133). Her reading suggests that definitions of "woman" and "man" - or gender -- are unstable. In fact, she proposes viewing "Woman I as a body...that departs from more normative representations of femininity" (Ibid., p. 134).
East Hampton II demonstrates Kooning's lifelong exploration of the relationship between figure and ground. As in Woman I, the painter blends the woman's flesh into the background, reflecting the influence of Cubism, particularly Picasso. However, 15 years later than Picasso's portraits, East Hampton II is a "freer" composition - which can be explained both by "the increased liquidity and slipperiness of de Kooning's medium" (J. Elderfield, de Kooning: A Retrospective, 2011, p. 364) and by the painter's (as well as society's) increasing openness to the representation of female pleasure. As such, in East Hampton II, one can also see "a range of disjunctures that add up to the sense of a body incapable of being regulated within more restrictive representations: formal structure and expressive handling of paint, order and disorder, masculine and feminine.... No longer contained within the existing terms, she has become a disorderly woman behaving badly in public, but with full knowledge of her right to occupy that space" (F. Barber, ibid., pp. 133-134).
We would like to thank Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc., for the following condition report: This work is mounted onto linen, or perhaps mounted onto paper and in turn mounted onto linen. Nonetheless, this is typical for works on paper by this artist, and they were very often mounted per his instruction. The paint layer is in lovely state and the paper is in perfect condition. There is no varnish or retouching to the work and no apparent damage. There are a couple of scuffs in the paper in the upper right below the 'g' of de Kooning, which may or may not have been present at the time the work was created. No retouches have been applied here nor should there be. The presentation of the work is good and appropriate, and there is no reason why it should not be displayed in its current condition.
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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