Reclining Figure (1969)

Willem de Kooning

Reclining Figure (1969), foto Jannes Linders

Reclining Figure (1969), foto Jannes Linders

The Artwork

Reclining Figure (1969) is one of the three sculptures by Willem De Kooning in Rotterdam. They stand together near the Hofplein in the centre of the city. The other scuptures are Seated Woman (1969) and Standing Figure (1969). Seated Woman is owned by the city, the other two sculptures are in ownership of the Willem De Kooning Foundation and had previously stood in Boston.

At the end of the sixties, the painter Willem de Kooning began experimenting with modelling clay. De Kooning saw his working with clay as painting in three dimensions. He made the sculptures, just like his paintings, with a spontaneous gesture without sketches or preparatory studies. Advised by Heny Moore, he had Seated Woman elnraged and cast in bronze. He was enthousiastic and started working on a large scale with three pairs of gloves on top of one another because he found his own hands too small. He did not consider modelling to be any different from painting; he regarded clay as thick paint.

The working method is imprinted in the sculpture: the limbs of rolled clay attached to the kneaded trunk, the bowl-like impression of a thumb and the enlarged fingerprints on the bronze skin – they all bare the trace of the human hand. This contrasts with the geometric form on which the woman sits. The reflections in the lively dark patina emphasise the sculpture’s curves.

The sculpture’s subject – a seated woman – is not immediately recognisable. The woman appears to have crossed her legs, which are a little too long, but it is not entirely clear how these limbs are constructed. To the left the lower part of a leg is folded backwards, to the right floats a form that resembles additional limbs. The arms too are sketchy and are out of proportion with the body.

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam in 1904. His career began in 1916 as an apprentice painter with the Gidding firm, where he produced decorative paintwork. In 1920 he became a decorator at a department store. Meanwhile he took evening classes for eight years at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen in Rotterdam. From 1924 to 1926 he lived in Belgium and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. In 1926 he moved to the United States.

In New York he developed an expressive style of painting, later known as Abstract Expressionism, characterised by the gestural application of paint and the suggestion of energy and strong emotions. De Kooning differed from the other Abstract Expressionists, who completely excluded recognisable motifs from their works, by painting traditional subjects such as women and landscapes.

De Kooning had his first exhibition in 1948 at the Egan Gallery in New York. In 1950 he represented America at the Venice Biennale together with Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. His work was first exhibited in the Netherlands in 1958 at the Haags Gemeentemuseum in a group show of American modern art. He attended the opening of his retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1968.

He made his first sculptures, a series of expressive figures in clay, in 1969. The English sculptor Henry Moore suggested that he have them enlarged and cast in bronze. He then made several large-format bronze figures; until 1975 he made approximately twenty-five female figures in bronze. In the 1980s de Kooning developed Alzheimer’s disease. He died in East Hampton, New York in 1997, the same year that Rotterdam’s art school was named after him.

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