Individual: ENT.0134

Elaine de Kooning

1918 – 1989


Elaine de Kooning grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where she began her lifelong love of art. She studied painting in college before marrying abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning, who worked with her to develop her painting style. The duo came for Black Mountain College’s Summer Session of 1948, with Willem acting as a last-minute substitute for painter Mark Tobey. Though Elaine did not teach that summer, she was highly involved in the community activities of the college, like the famous production of Erik Satie’s The Ruse of Medusa. She spent her time at BMC working on her paintings and building relationships with others there that summer, including Buckminster Fuller, Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Arthur Penn, Pat Passlof, M.C. Richards, and Ray Spillenger. When Willem returned to New York in the fall, Elaine remained at the college for some time, developing a series of paintings titled “Black Mountain Abstractions.”


Elaine and Willem both went on to be an active part of ‘The Club’ of abstract expressionist painters in 1950s New York. In addition to painting throughout her life, de Kooning also worked as a critic and editor for Art News magazine, and taught at colleges around the country. De Kooning’s style was more representational than many of her contemporaries, painting portraits and landscapes with gestural strokes that incorporated many of the ideals of abstract expressionism. She is perhaps most famous for her portraits of John F. Kennedy, which epitomize this loose, expressive representative style. She explains, “Portraiture always fascinated me because I love the particular gesture of a particular expression or stance…Working on the figure, I wanted paint to sweep through as feelings sweep through.”