Elaine de Kooning 1918 —1989


Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Elaine de Kooning became a noted Abstract Expressionist painter who also pursued portrait painting in a semi-realist style. She was a person of many distinctions.  Elaine de Kooning taught at Parsons-The New School, Carnegie-Melon, New York Studio School (Paris), Pratt Institute of Art and Yale School of Fine Art.  She was represented by the eminent dealer Sam Kootz along with Conrad Marca-Relli.  She was a facile portrait painter and for some, is known best for her work in that area, though for others, it was her abstract expressionist work that defined her career. 

Kootz, as an account executive in advertising handling motion pictures clients,  published  Modern American Painters in 1930.  In 1934 he commissioned Stuart Davis and Arthur Dove to design scarves which were shown in Macys.  He selected paintings of Abstract Expressionism for a 1942 show at Macy's department store. In 1943 his New Frontiers in American Painting became the first to positively treat the emerging Abstract Expressionist artists in a book on American art (Ashton). He resigned from his agency in 1944 to become a dealer of modern American art, opening his gallery the following year. As a gallery dealer, he subsidized the emerging artists in 1947, Robert Motherwell and William Baziotes among others, sending the two artists to Florida to paint uninterrupted. The Kootz Gallery held the first post-World War II exhibition of Picasso's work in the United States in 1947. His personal rapport with the artist led him--at Picasso's suggestion--to close his gallery and sell Picasso's work exclusively by appointment. However, Kootz missed greater public interaction. Kootz reopened his gallery, now on Madison Avenue, holding an exhibition of Abstract Expressionist painters--the first gallery to show--called, "the Intrasubjectives," the term he coined for the movement, in 1949. In 1950, Kootz commissioned two important figures in the New York art world, the critic Clement Greenberg (q.v.) and the Columbia art historian Meyer Schapiro (q.v.) to launch what was to become a series of modernist exhibitions, titles "Talent." These shows gave first-time exposure to Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. He closed the gallery in 1966, insisting that it had lost its usefulness as a venue for new art--the field now so full of "merchants." 

Kootz was a leader in bringing elevating American modernist taste and promoting the important artists of the New York School including Elaine de Kooning His Modern American Painters chided American chauvinism, pointing out that important American painters and found the roots in stiles outside the continent (Ashton.  The New York School. New York: Penguin, 1979).

However, like so many women artists of that era who married artists, her career was sublimated to that of her famous husband, Willem de Kooning.  They became the leaders of the New York School social set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

She was introduced to Willem de Kooning in 1938; she became his student and five years later, his wife. They were the typical artist couple in the 1940's, struggling with serious financial hardships while producing tremendously innovative work. by the early 1950's she was producing stylized paintings based on news photographs of sports figures. She was also an art critic for Artnews and wrote articles about American Modernist painters. In one respect de Kooning was very unusual for an Abstract Expressionist: along with her abstract work she developed a reputation as a portrait painter.  

Together and apart, Elaine and Willem worked relentlessly on their painting, and she on the promotion of her husband's talents. During their early years, they were exceedingly poor, and in the last decade of their life together had millions of dollars because of the money earned from his paintings. In retrospect, she is credited as the significant influence on making Willem de Kooning the leading name in New York art circles.  She was a close confidant of Harold Rosenberg.   Thomas Hess, managing editor of ArtNews hired Elaine De Kooning as an art critic.  Her skillful reviews in ArtNews Magazine where she worked as an editorial associate., coupled with her unusual ability to speak forcefully about contemporary American art and artists, particular Willem de Kooning, in private and public lectures.  In 1956, she was included in the Ten Best list in ArtNews and as well as in the Great Expectations I article written by Thomas Hess that same year.  She was a great champion of painter, Fairfield Porter, a realist painted, quite distant in style from the abstract expressionists.

Her art training began after high school when she attended the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School where she studied with Conrad Marca-Relli, a teacher who encouraged her to work her own way and to work hard.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not completely abandon realism, and during much of her career she continued to pursue portraiture for which she was known in the 1950s and 60s, as well as abstract painting. One of her most famous commissions was for President John F. Kennedy, which was in process at the time of the assassination. When he died, she was so saddened that she put down her brushes for a year.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website: http://www.janetlehrfinearts.com

View synoptic biography below.


Teaching positions

1959: University of New Mexico;

1960: The Pennsylvania State University;

1963-64: University of California, Davis, California;

1967: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut;

1968: Pratt Institute;

1968-70: Carnegie-Mellon University;

1971-72: University of Pennsylvania;

1971: Wagner College;

1974: New York Studio School, Paris;

1974-75: Parsons School of Design, NYC;

1976-79: University of Georgia.

Selected solo exhibitions

1952, 1954, 1956: Stable Gallery, NYC;

1957: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NYC;

1959: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut;

1960: Ellison Gallery, Fort Worth, Texas;

1960, 1963, 1965, 1975: Graham Gallery, NYC;

1964: "25 Portraits of J.F.K.", Peale House Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;

1979: "Bacchus, Works on Paper", Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and Library, Laurel, Mississippi;

1981, 1983: "Cave Paintings", Vered Gallery, East Hampton  NY.

1982, 86: Gruenebaum Gallery' NYC;

1983: "Elaine de Kooning and the Bacchus Motif", Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois;

1991: "Black Mountain Paintings from 1948", Joan T. Washburn Gallery, NYC.

Selected group exhibitions

1951, 1953-1957: 9th Street Art Exhibition, the first "New York Painters and Sculptors Annual Exhibition" and subsequent 5 New York Artists' Annual Exhibitions, Stable Gallery, NYC;

1956: "Abstract Expressionism", circ., by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; "Young American Painters", circ., The Museum of Modern Art, NYC; "Pittsburgh International", Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh;

1958: "Action Painting, 1958", The Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas;

1960: "Abstract Expressionists Painting of the Fifties", The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota;

1961: The Whitney Museum of American Art Annuals and Biennials, NYC;

1964: "67th Annual American Exhibition: Directions in Contemporary Painting and Sculpture", The Art Institute of Chicago;

Painting in New York", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.;

1990: "East Hampton Avant-Garde, A Salute to the Signa Gallery", Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York.


Works by Elaine de Kooning are in many public collections including: Albright Knox Art Gallery;  Amarillo Museum of ArtBoca Raton Museum of Art; Georgia Museum of Art; Greenville Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; and Telfair Museum of Art;


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