Spanning Three Pivotal Decades,
The Works Trace Evolution of de Kooning’s Oeuvre
With a Combined Estimate in Excess of $50 Million
The Paintings Will Star in Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction this November
“These three paintings and our grandfather’s liberated palette were forever present in our lives… For as long as we can remember, Untitled, c. 1979, was referred to affectionately as “the Monet” by our mother. Even as young children, we were captivated by it. It was a window; we had the sea in the studio. In all of these works, there’s a lawlessness moored by intention.”The de Kooning Family
“Working directly with the de Kooning family, we hand-selected these works not only to emphasize their unique quality, but to also tell a story about de Kooning and the importance each of these decades plays within his practice. The remarkable evolution on display in these three works is a testament to de Kooning’s unparalleled vision and dexterity as a painter, deftly moving from one critical formal invention to another, always looking forward to new styles and forms.”Lisa Dennison, Sotheby’s Chairman, Americas
NEW YORK, 16 SEPTEMBER 2022 – Marking one of the most exceptional groupings of paintings by Willem de Kooning to ever appear on the market, three superlative masterworks by one of the undisputed titans of 20th century art will make their auction debut this November, on offer from the de Kooning Family Collection. With each work executed at the culmination of a pivotal decade in de Kooning’s oeuvre, the seminal paintings included in DE KOONING | DECADES trace the evolution of the artist’s practice from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, constituting an elegant retrospective throughout three successive decades of his career.
The group is comprised of Montauk II, from 1969, one of five known Montauk paintings created in that year (estimate $10/15 million); Untitled, circa 1979, a singular masterwork that represents the culmination of an exceptional body of highly gestural, colorful canvases from the 1970s, and which charts a path forward to the new era embodied in his 1980s canvases (estimate $30/40 million); and The Hat Upstairs, a rare large-scale work from 1987 that, much like Untitled, circa 1979, is distinguished by its unique coloration and compositional lyricism, and will be unveiled to the public for the first time having never before been on public exhibition (estimate $8/12 million).
Pivotal to their significance, all three works were painted in de Kooning’s self-designed home and studio in the East Hampton village of Springs – a seaside oasis where the artist lived and worked as his primary residence and studio beginning in the late 1960s until his death in 1997. The artist’s work was greatly influenced by his move from the densely populated city streets of Manhattan to the tranquility of his coastal escape, most clearly evident in the Montauk series, but also in the surface of Untitled, which remarkably evokes the sea in its vibrant blue hues, expressive brushstrokes, and lush impasto style of painting.
WILLEM DE KOONING’S EAST HAMPTON STUDIO
With the three exceptional works coming to auction directly from the de Kooning family, through newly taken photographs, Sotheby’s is offering an extremely rare glimpse into the artist’s seldom-seen East Hampton studio, which has remained private for decades. Since the artist’s death in 1997, the studio has remained virtually untouched and meticulously preserved, showcasing de Kooning’s vision in creating his own environment that is not only unique to his needs as an artist, but reflects his own life story. Drawing from his experience as a stowaway on a ship from the Netherlands to the United States in 1926, nautical elements are incorporated throughout, while also featuring grand structural trusses and walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that provided de Kooning with the ample natural light and the freedom of movement that were so critical to his work. A further exploration of the studio can be seen in The New York Times here.
DE KOONING | DECADES
“Willem de Kooning is unquestionably one of the most important artists of the 20th century, whose artistic evolution and experimentation helped define the Abstract Expressionist movement, as well expand it into new realms of expression. The three works in this collection represent an incredible insight into how de Kooning relentlessly refined and reworked his visual style, always exploring new techniques and approaches. That alone would make this group of works a significant moment for the market, but to have all three paintings arrive on the market for the first time directly from the de Kooning family is a singular opportunity that showcases the depth of de Kooning’s work in a new light.”
David Galperin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, New York
Each dating from the culmination of a decade, these paintings from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s independently mark transformative moments for de Kooning. Presented in dialogue, they reveal the artist’s development across three decades of artistic brilliance and inspiration while living and working in East Hampton, from the rolling figurative forms of Montauk II into the sumptuous abstraction of Untitled, which culminates in the refined, calligraphic beauty of The Hat Upstairs.
Willem de Kooning, Montauk II
1969, Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Estimate $10-15 million
The artist’s proximity to Montauk, New York was clearly a preoccupation and source of inspiration for him in the present work. One of five known Montauk paintings the artist executed in 1969, the monumental scale and square proportions of Montauk II make it exceptionally rare among de Kooning’s works of this period, and no comparable paintings of the same quality or unparalleled provenance from the late 1960s have ever been offered at auction. Montauk II is among the very best in color and composition from the series, which are exceedingly rare on the market with two other examples residing in important international museum collections: the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
In 1963, de Kooning moved from New York City to Springs, East Hampton, near Montauk. As soon as his new studio was habitable in 1964, he began to work in it. As the title emphasizes, Montauk II exemplifies de Kooning’s focus upon and interest in this specific place of sea and land; here, the artist is already addressing his goals for his preoccupations of the 1970s, where the landscape becomes a main inspiration for his abstraction, in combination with the figuration that he explored so viscerally from the mid-1960s. Within the present work, one feels the history of the decade and a window into de Kooning’s main achievements in his important 1970s renaissance.
Willem de Kooning, Untitled
Circa 1979, Oil on canvas
Estimate $30-40 million
A singular masterwork of de Kooning’s oeuvre, Untitled, circa 1979, is from a remarkable period of work for the artist, marked by a bold and assured stroke. Few of these paintings have ever appeared on the market, and none as exceptionally stunning as Untitled, circa 1979. It is quintessentially de Kooning yet one-of-a-kind. Representing a transformative moment for de Kooning, Untitled represents the magnificent culmination of the artist’s pivotal cycle of 1970s masterworks and epitomizes the richly worked surfaces the highly gestural, colorful canvases of this period, which rank among the artist’s most highly sought after works, while also foreseeing the refined, compositional lyricism of his late masterworks from the 1980s.
As Montauk II evokes a summer’s sand and light, this painting beautifully conjures the sea – which was a few miles from the artist’s beloved Springs, East Hampton studio, where the work was painted – and immediately recalls the late Nymphéas of Claude Monet—it was even affectionately referred to as “the Monet” by the de Kooning family—and in particular the Impressionist master’s depiction of water mirroring the changing atmosphere of the sky. The surface of Untitled is uniquely remarkable for its vibrant blue, green, and yellow Impressionistic coloration, a combination not used elsewhere in this way within de Kooning’s output, underscoring its exceptional quality and transcending the rare moment from when it was painted.
Willem de Kooning, The Hat Upstairs
1987, Oil on canvas
Estimate $8-12 million
Unveiled to the public for the first time, after remaining in the de Kooning Family Collection for more than three decades and never before publicly exhibited, The Hat Upstairs from 1987 is a masterwork of the artist’s 1980s canvases.
The Hat Upstairs singularly embodies the vibrancy, lyrical abstraction, and deft painterly intention of de Kooning’s final and celebrated decade. The year of this work, 1987, was an especially productive and successful year for de Kooning, and within this late period, in which de Kooning experimented with his work considerably in each year, The Hat Upstairs stands out as a major work. The saturated pigment forming harmonious lines and forms that counterbalance one another, and speak to de Kooning’s admiration for the late cutouts by Henri Matisse. Like Matisse, de Kooning distilled a lifetime’s creativity into a highly reduced language of color and line in his late works; here, the gestural strokes and heavy impasto of his earlier output are distilled into graceful ribbons and harmonious arabesques of color.
The Hat Upstairs reveals one of de Kooning’s preoccupations during the 1980s: the almost Zen-like balance and tension of positive and negative, of movement and color, and the balance between them that gives the works form and breath. When positioned in relation to his earlier work, The Hat Upstairs reveals a captivating evolution within the artist’s career, expressing the breadth of his achievements in formulating the abstract language of 20th century art, as well as his ceaseless ability to continue refining and innovating his style.
DE KOONING | DECADES Exhibition Schedule:
Hong Kong: 2 – 8 October
London: 8 – 12 October
Paris: 19 – 24 October
Los Angeles: 26 – 29 October
New York: 4 – 16 November