New York, 1918 - 1989

Elaine de Kooning

Born on March 12, 1918, in Brooklyn, Elaine Fried was exposed to art through frequent museum and gallery visits with her mother from a young age. Shortly after enrolling at Hunter College, New York, she withdrew in 1937 and began studying art at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, New York, with Conrad Marca-Relli, who became a close friend. She also took drawing classes from the man who would eventually become her husband, Willem de Kooning, in 1938. Her early works are still lifes and portraits distinctly influenced by Cubism, but in the mid- to late 1940s she began making abstract paintings as well as writing art criticism. She worked as an editorial associate at Art News under Thomas Hess, writing essays on Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, and Franz Kline,...

learn more about this artist

Biography

Born on March 12, 1918, in Brooklyn, Elaine Fried was exposed to art through frequent museum and gallery visits with her mother from a young age. Shortly after enrolling at Hunter College, New York, she withdrew in 1937 and began studying art at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, New York, with Conrad Marca-Relli, who became a close friend. She also took drawing classes from the man who would eventually become her husband, Willem de Kooning, in 1938. Her early works are still lifes and portraits distinctly influenced by Cubism, but in the mid- to late 1940s she began making abstract paintings as well as writing art criticism. She worked as an editorial associate at Art News under Thomas Hess, writing essays on Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, and Franz Kline, and making Abstract Expressionism accessible to a broader audience. In 1948, De Kooning spent the summer at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, where she played the title role in a production of Erik Satie’s Le piège de Méduse (The Ruse of Medusa, 1948), produced by John Cage and Merce Cunningham, for which she also designed the sets. Her first solo exhibition was in 1952 at the Stable Gallery, New York, where she showed again in 1954 and 1956.

De Kooning was a founding member of the Club, a group of avant-garde artists that met in Greenwich Village to discuss and debate art from 1949 until 1962. Though a fierce defender of Abstract Expressionism, she eventually became known for her portraits, particularly of men. After receiving a teaching appointment at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, in 1958, she traveled to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where she saw her first bullfight. The experience inspired a series of bull paintings on horizontal canvases, rendered in a bolder palette than that of her previous work. In 1961 she was included in the Whitney Annual (later the Whitney Biennial), New York, and in 1962 was commissioned to paint John F. Kennedy’s portrait, in part because of her reputation for quick execution. Despite an entire year obsessively working on the portrait, after the president’s death in 1964 she ceased painting altogether for another year.

From the late 1940s to the early 1980s, De Kooning painted basketball players at play using a loose, expressionistic style, and in the 1980s made a series of quasi-figurative, orgiastic paintings titled Bacchus. In 1983 she visited the Paleolithic caves in Lascaux, France, and began a series of paintings based on the cave paintings, titled Cave Walls, in which outlines of animals such as deer, bison, and goats, are rendered against turbulent grounds of dense brushstrokes. Toward the end of her life, she also made a number of works on paper in ink, continuing with the theme of cave paintings.

De Kooning had several solo gallery shows throughout her lifetime at museums including the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey (1973), and Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York (1989). Her work was featured in the Museum of Modern Art–organized exhibition, Young American Painters (1956–58), which traveled throughout the United States (but was not presented in New York). De Kooning was also included in group shows at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1956); Pittsburgh International (now Carnegie International, 1956); Art Institute of Chicago (1964); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1980); and Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton (1990). De Kooning died on February 1, 1989, in Southampton, New York.

Artworks

Untitled, 1949

Related Categories

20th Century Art / Abstract and Figurative / Abstract Expressionism / Abstract Painting / Abstraction / American Abstract Expressionism / American Art / Art of the 1940s / Artists of All Time / Board / Bold Composition / Cave Paintings / Contemporary American Art / Inspiration from Primitivism / New York / Oil on Board / Oil Paint / Oil Painting / Painting / Portrait Painting / Rough and Brave Brushstrokes / United States / Women Artists

Curriculum Vitae

Selected Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Painters of the East End, Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2008

    New York Cool: Paintings and Sculptures from the NYU Art Collection, Grey Art Gallery, NYU, New York, NY

  • 2007

    Pathways and Parallls: Roads to Abstract Expressionism, Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, NY

view full CV

Curriculum Vitae

The artist CV shows the details after 2000s.
To access the artist’s full CV, please click the download button at the end.

Selected Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Painters of the East End, Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2008

    New York Cool: Paintings and Sculptures from the NYU Art Collection, Grey Art Gallery, NYU, New York, NY

  • 2007

    Pathways and Parallls: Roads to Abstract Expressionism, Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, NY

  • A Culture in the Making, Hacket Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA

  • 2006

    Aspects of Humanity, CCAS, Center for Contemporary Art Sacramento, Sacramento, CA

  • Black Mountain College, Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Philadelphia, PA

  • Black Mountain College: Its Time and Place, Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC

  • Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England

  • 2004

    JFK and Art, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL

  • American Expressionism: Art and Social Change, 1920s - 1950s, Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL

  • 2003

    Elaine De Kooning, Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA