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Yellow Woman
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Yellow Woman
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Yellow Woman

US
NY, US
US

About the item

In June 1950, immediately following the completion of his masterpiece canvas Excavation, Willem de Kooning began Woman I, thus initiating a cycle of works that would come to wholly redefine and recalibrate his career. Woman I, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, occupied de Kooning for nearly two years until completion and was all-consuming: following its ultimate realization, the artist continued to be haunted by the female image he had conceived, pursuing it in multiple manifestations in a series of paintings and drawings that occupied his full artistic energies well into 1953. Yellow Woman, executed at the apex of this concentrated odyssey of creative fervor in 1952, broadcasts the full spectrum of de Kooning’s unprecedented technique with abounding intensity across every inch of its rich, spectacular surface. Gleaming silver and radiant yellow instantaneously dazzle the eye, while a heightened complexity of spatial organization compels intimate contemplation. Working on a gem-like scale, the artist achieved a near unbelievable density of painterly bravura in the present work, consolidating his impassioned strokes, graphic lines, and painterly scrawls into a composition that bespeaks the full brilliance of the Woman series. Formerly treasured in the deeply venerated collection of Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine for over three decades, Yellow Woman is an irrepressibly exuberant paragon of de Kooning’s artistic genius at the height of his inventive powers. Here we witness a stunning interplay of linear elegance, automatic gesture and sumptuous color. Each new Woman painting presented a clean slate for de Kooning, a battleground wherein abstract brushwork and figurative drawing came to a head in the struggle for compositional primacy, the conflict ultimately giving way to an entirely revolutionary imagery. As our eyes consume de Kooning’s barrage of visual cues and dynamic marks we find ourselves constantly, and enticingly, oscillating between perceiving the contours as physical human attributes and by allowing the forms to break down into pure abstraction. Therein lies the particular genius of de Kooning’s inimitable brand of Abstract Expressionism, articulated in its most phenomenal bravado within the unmatched brilliance of Yellow Woman. The painting thrillingly verges on violence, while simultaneously evoking an increased serenity in her upright posture and cushioned forms. The agitated lines and swathes of oil-paint result in a fully formed painting that stands apart in its sensuous evocation of flesh from other, less fully resolved charcoal studies from the period. De Kooning’s genius here rests in the spectacular conflation of freedom and abandon with total painterly control. In a 1953 review by James Fitzsimmons in Art, the critic wrote that de Kooning was involved “in a terrible struggle with a female force… a bloody hand to hand combat with a female personification of all that is unacceptable, perverse, and infantile in ourselves.” (James Fitzsimmons cited in Barbara Hess, de Kooning, Los Angeles, 2007, p. 33)\nBursting forth from the precious jewel-like format of the paper, the small scale belies the vigorous energy of the brushwork and the dramatic iconicity of the image. The intensely intimate scale of Yellow Woman forces the viewer into close proximity, accentuating our scrutiny and further heightening its phenomenal impact. The Women as a corpus are de Kooning’s interpretation of a subject that has long been integral to the history of art conveyed through the prism of American culture at mid-century, with its emphasis on glamorous female sex symbols, and his own highly personal aesthetic proclivities. De Kooning’s early depictions of women portrayed the figure as seated; according to Richard Shiff, “For such an artist, involved in transferring the feel of a body to the malleable substance of paint, the visual perspective of a sitting woman also generates the curves of buttocks that spread to left and right, the compressed curves of foreshortened thighs, and the distinctively angled configuration of legs that appear to splay outward.” (Exh. Cat., Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne, Women: Picasso, Beckmann, de Kooning, 2012, pp. 45-46) Though abstracted, his Yellow Woman is highly sexualized—with her nude torso bared and accentuated by yellow outlines around her bust, de Kooning’s Yellow Woman harnesses the same confrontational sexuality as Manet’s Olympia, who might in fact serve as the first truly abstracted female nude in art history. Sexualized but not very erotic, de Kooning’s ferocious Yellow Woman presents a confluence of beauty and the surreal. The crisply outlined components of her body describe space with great precision, positing the figure in a tradition of synthetic Cubism whereby various geometric planes intersect and overlap with extraordinary force. Describing the composition of de Kooning’s Woman works on paper, Thomas Hess suggested, “the vectors [of the drawings] seem to have become the parts of a giant watchworks which tick around the figure, hiding, revealing, then hiding her again as if she has become a part of time… perhaps some idea about the bending nature of space and time informs this image.” (Thomas B. Hess cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), de Kooning: A Retrospective, 2011, p. 254)\nDe Kooning’s form reveals a heightened interest in geometry, virtually dissecting the human body into its constituent parts. The artist’s achievement lies in his innovative total deconstruction of mass and space. De Kooning gathered from within the anatomy a profound psychological malaise—attacking perceptions of beauty, freedom in painting, and his own masculinity, his Women are formidable treatises on the existential condition of humanity. In Yellow Woman, the artist’s kinetic forms oscillate between figuration and abstraction: silvery shapes both composed and agitated, receding in and out of their vibrant yellow background with as much inventiveness as his brilliant color palette and varied range of brushwork. The present work narrates the speed, grit, and coarseness of being in the urban landscape, representing the figure as irrevocably entangled within its environment. A rare and deeply treasured icon of arguably one of the most important series of post-war paintings, Yellow Woman embodies the obsessive passion that the artist invested in the subject. In a 1960 interview with David Sylvester, de Kooning noted, “The Women had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all those idols, and maybe I was stuck to a certain extent; I couldn’t go on.” (the artist cited in Barbara Hess, Op. Cit., p. 33)\nYellow Woman, which eloquently exemplifies the entirety of de Kooning’s radical new abstraction with its intense color and fierce technique, is being sold by Ross Institute, founded in 1996 to promote and support innovative research and interdisciplinary practices in education. Ross School, a lab school of Ross Institute located on Long Island, embodies this mission as it prepares students from around the world to engage fully in the global community. Throughout the integrated Ross Spiral curriculum, art and artifact play a central role in stimulating students to gain insight into various cultures and to discover deep aesthetic and intellectual meaning in art. Students probe art’s role and its impact in the life of the individual and the community, and in this examination of an all-encompassing context, de Kooning would have been a kindred spirit. Just as the creation of his Women of the early 1950s was an ongoing evolution, de Kooning believed that the viewer’s experience of an abstract work such as Yellow Woman was constantly changing and never finite.\nSigned
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil, tempera, charcoal and graphite on paper

creator

Willem De Kooning

condition

Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at (212) 606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Paper Conservation Studio Inc. This sheet is hinged to ragboard at the top corners and framed in a wood strip frame painted white, and mounted under Plexiglas in a larger shadow box frame painted white with a 3 inch float. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

8 3/4 x 6 in. 22.2 x 15.2 cm.

exhibition

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 200 Years of Watercolor in America: An Exhibition Commemorating the Centennial of the American Watercolor Society, December 1966 - January 1967, cat. no. 227, p. 32 (checklist) Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters - The Spirit of Modernism, February - April 1984, p. 70, illustrated in color New York, The Pace Gallery, Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet: The Women, November 1990 - January 1991, pl. 11, p. 49, illustrated in color

literature

Kathleen L. Housley, Emily Hall Tremaine: Collector on the Cusp, Connecticut, 2001, p. 121, illustrated in color (in installation in the Tremaine home) and p. 184 (text)

provenance

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Meriden, Connecticut (acquired from the above in 1956) Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art from the Tremaine Collection, November 9, 1988, Lot 21 Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above) Donated to the present owner by the above

signedDate

Signed

consignmentDesignation

Property of the Ross Institute

creator_nationality_dates

1904 - 1997


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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