Willem de Kooning. Woman I. 1950–52
Curator, Ann Temkin: This painting is called Woman, I and it has the number after it because ultimately there were six such large-scale paintings of single women that de Kooning worked on in the 1950s.
The woman of the painting is staring out at the viewer with a kind of ferocity and a kind of toothy glare that makes her anything but a typical seductress or muse that one might think of in terms of the hundreds of years of paintings of female subjects. This is a painting that he began after having worked in an abstract mode over the last few years. And having received very wonderful critical acclaim for the abstract paintings he made. He had, however, been painting the figure—and particularly the female figure—in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and at this time he decided to go back to it.
And so de Kooning's big challenge was how to use the power of paint to again give some meaning to creating the image of a human figure on a canvas. And if what you see on the canvas before you has the feel or the look of something like a battlefield, there's a good reason, because indeed, this is a picture that de Kooning struggled and struggled with.
He worked for months and months over a year-and-a-half, making, paintings, one on top of the other, scratching them, sanding them down, getting rid of the image that he had worked on the day before. The look of it is very much of something in progress, something that has not come to some kind of comfortable resolution or conclusion, but something which is still in a bit of a state of war.