Collection 1880s–1940s

Willem de Kooning. Painting. 1948 556

Enamel and oil on canvas, 42 5/8 x 56 1/8" (108.3 x 142.5 cm). Purchase. © 2023 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Conservator, Corey D’Agustine: My name is Corey D'Augustine. I am an art history professor as well as a conservator. I've taught de Kooning a lot. I spent a lot of time studying him. I've also treated his paintings as a conservator.

De Kooning often worked with black and white and sometimes aluminum paint. But another approach that de Kooning did occasionally use in his works is to work with enamel paint.

Now, enamel—enamel is a household paint. In other words, it's coming out of a can rather than a tube. And in the can, as you know from painting your bedroom or your picket fence, you're talking about some very fluid and usually very opaque, very pigment rich paint. It's also very fast paint, so it's the kind of thing that really is great for action painting, brushstrokes that really recall the speed of the gesture with which they were applied.

Let's step back from the painting and take a look. And, this is actually a really important and underestimated aspect of de Kooning's approach to painting. We all think about these explosive moments, these active moments of painting. But, really, de Kooning alternated those with some very long, very patient, very critical periods of careful looking at his paintings and trying to understand what the painting wanted to do next.

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