A generous vision The creative life of Elaine de Kooning

Cathy Curtis

Book - 2017

The first biography of Elaine de Kooning, 'A Generous Vision' portrays a woman whose intelligence, droll sense of humor, and generosity of spirit endeared her to friends and gave her a starring role in the close-knit world of New York artists. Her zest for adventure and freewheeling spending were as legendary as her ever-present cigarette. Flamboyant and witty in person, she was an incisive art writer who expressed maverick opinions in a deceptively casual style. As a painter, she meld...ed Abstract Expressionism with a lifelong interest in bodily movement to capture subjects as diverse as President John F. Kennedy, basketball players, and bullfights. In her romantic life, she went her own way, always keen for male attention. But she credited her husband, Willem de Kooning, as her greatest influence; rather than being overshadowed by his fame, she worked 'in his light.'

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Series
Oxford cultural biographies.
Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Oxford University Press 2017.
Language
English
Physical Description
x, 292 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780190498474
0190498471
Main Author
Cathy Curtis (author)
  • 1. Drawing and discovering
  • 2. Life with Bill
  • 3. Black Mountain, Provincetown, and the Woman paintings
  • 4. Illuminating art
  • 5. East Hampton, pro sports, and the separation
  • 6. Enchantment
  • 7. Loft life, speaking out, and European vistas
  • 8. Portraits as moments and memory
  • 9. Painting the President
  • 10. Caretaking and cave paintings.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Meticulous and captivating biographer Curtis continues her quest to fully illuminate the lives and work of underappreciated women artists, following her portrait of painter Grace Hartigan in Restless Ambition (2015) with this vivid and clarifying chronicle of Elaine de Kooning. Though most often considered in conjunction with her famous artist husband, Willem de Kooning, despite the fact that, while they remained married for decades, they spent very little time together, Elaine is dazzling in her own right as an inquisitive and bold painter and an incisive arts writer. Brilliant, empathetic, vivacious, witty, fearless, and utterly unconventional, she worked constantly, knew everyone in the New York art world, taught as a visiting artist across the country, threw rollicking parties, drank and smoked to excess (she quit the former but died from the latter), was cavalier about money, and inspired and helped many. Elaine loved language and color, embraced the challenge of depicting "bodies in motion," and painted dynamic portraits, most famously of JFK. Curtis chronicles Elaine's diverse accomplishments and channels her radiant spirit and vibrant genius to indelible effect. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Curtis's biography of Elaine de Kooning (1918–89) takes the reader on a fascinating journey to get to know the 20th-century artist and critic for ARTnews, a woman who was an articulate spokesperson for the abstract expressionist movement. An art history scholar, Curtis charts de Kooning's precocious interest in art, her childhood in New York City, and her first encounter with the painter whom she would consider her greatest influence, Dutch-born Willem de Kooning. Narrating the de Koonings' life in New York City, Black Mountain College, Provincetown, and the Hamptons—and Elaine's many varied teaching positions in the US and abroad—Curtis illuminates the extraordinary breadth of the couple's artistic circles. Elaine's talent is given its own well-deserved spotlight as she refuses to be dominated by the forceful male artists, critics, and musicians of the mid-20th century. As a painter she combined the gestural nature of abstract expressionism with a strong sense of dynamism and of the human figure—recording the energy and vitality of sportsmen, fellow artists, and, famously, John F. Kennedy. Including archival photographs and color reproductions of de Kooning's work, this insightful biography is an exhilarating read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.--C. J. Jolivette, Missouri State UniversityCatherine Jane JolivetteMissouri State University Catherine Jane Jolivette Choice Reviews 55:08 April 2018 Copyright 2018 American Library Association.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The first biography of Elaine de Kooning, A Generous Vision portrays a woman whose intelligence, droll sense of humor, and generosity of spirit endeared her to friends and gave her a starring role in the close-knit world of New York artists. Her zest for adventure and freewheeling spending were as legendary as her ever-present cigarette. Flamboyant and witty in person, she was an incisive art writer who expressed maverick opinions in a deceptively casual style. As a painter, she melded Abstract Expressionism with a lifelong interest in bodily movement to capture subjects as diverse as President John F. Kennedy, basketball players, and bullfights. In her romantic life, she went her own way, always keen for male attention. But she credited her husband, Willem de Kooning, as her greatest influence; rather than being overshadowed by his fame, she worked "in his light." Nearly two decades after their separation, after finally embracing sobriety herself, she returned to his side to rescue him from severe alcoholism. Based on painstaking research and dozens of interviews, A Generous Vision brings to life a leading figure of twentieth-century art who lived a full and fascinating life on her own terms.