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Elaine de Kooning

American, 1918-1989


Curating Works


Elaine de Kooning was born in Brooklyn, NY as Elaine Fried in 1918. She was exposed to art through frequent museum and gallery visits with her mother from a young age. Shortly after enrolling at Hunter College, she withdrew in 1937 and began studying art at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, 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 life and portraits distinctly influenced by Cubism, but in the mid- to late 1940s she began making abstract paintings. Elaine 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). Her first solo exhibition was in 1952 at the Stable Gallery, where she showed again in 1954 and 1956. de Kooning was a founding member of the Club. 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. Her works can be found in collections of MoMA, Guggenheim, Metropolitan, Denver Art Museum, and Smithsonian.