Seated Woman

Willem de Kooning, American (born Netherlands), 1904 - 1997

Geography:
Made in United States, North and Central America

Date:
c. 1940

Medium:
Oil and charcoal on Masonite

Dimensions:
54 1/16 x 36 inches (137.3 x 91.4 cm)

Copyright:
© The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Modern Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1974-178-23

Credit Line:
The Albert M. Greenfield and Elizabeth M. Greenfield Collection, 1974

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Label:
This composition is an early work from Willem de Kooning's long sequence of paintings of women that culminated in one of the most aggressive revisions of the female figure in the history of art. Began as a study for a commissioned portrait that the artist never completed, the portrait served as a vehicle for de Kooning to explore his ongoing interest in amalgamating figurative subjects with the pictorial concerns of abstraction. While the willful anatomical distortions reflect the influence of Pablo Picasso, the seated figure also recalls the sensuous women painted by the nineteenth-century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, with their tightly fitted bodices and delicate features.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This portrait signals the beginning of a long series of paintings by Willem de Kooning that culminated in one of the most aggressive revisions of the female figure in the art of this century. Here De Kooning's struggle to redefine the female form is presented explicitly in the painted outlines and charcoal underdrawing and overdrawing that emphasize the artist's rearrangements, particularly of arms and legs. The intense greens, blues, pinks, and oranges comprise an acidic palette typical of De Kooning's work of this time. The woman is seated before a thin table within an environment of sufficient flatness and spatial ambiguity to recall the ancient Pompeian murals that De Kooning often visited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. By veiling the woman's face with layers of paint atop a wide, unfocused stare and bared teeth, De Kooning keeps the sitter at an unbridgeable distance from the viewer in both space and time. Ann Temkin, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 326.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This composition is an early work from de Kooning's long sequence of paintings of women that culminated in one of the most aggressive revisions of the female figure in the art of the twentieth century. The three-quarter-length Seated Woman began as a study for a commissioned portrait that the artist never completed. Instead, de Kooning used the portrait as a vehicle to explore his ongoing interest in amalgamating figurative subjects with the pictorial concerns of abstraction. The beautiful female that de Kooning assembled and disassembled recalls the coolly sensuous women painted by the nineteenth-century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, with their tightly fitted bodices, delicate features, and fineness of line. However, the painting's willful anatomical distortions and shifting perspectives are unquestionably related to the recent paintings of the European avant-garde.

    De Kooning's struggle to redefine the female form is presented explicitly in the painted outlines and charcoal underdrawing and overdrawing that emphasize the artist's rearrangements, particularly of arms and legs. The left arm, for example, is barely hinged to the body and hangs loose, as if pulled out of its socket. The ghostlike pentimenti retain the evidence of previous incarnations of the work and reflect de Kooning's practice of sandpapering his paintings when they were dry to approximate the polished surfaces of Old Master portraits. The high-keyed pinks, blues, purples, reds, aquamarines, and oranges comprise an acidic palette typical of the artist's work of this time, when he used intense colors to define both space and figure. The hieratic pose, the remote dreamlike stare, and the faint suggestion of a crownlike tiara on the head of de Kooning's voluptuous seated woman suggest the presence of a symbol, like a playing card queen or a model in a magazine, rather than a specific person. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 80.