Elaine de Kooning Biography

Elaine de Kooning




Elaine Marie Catherine Fried de Kooning was born in New York City on March 12, 1920, the oldest child of Charles Frank and Mary Ellen O'Brien Fried. She was introduced to art at an early age by her mother, who covered the walls of their Brooklyn home with reproductions of famous paintings. After her graduation from Erasmus Hall High School, she put in a brief stint at Hunter College, then switched to the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in Manhattan, where she fell in with a congenial group of abstract and Social Realist painters. In 1938, at the age of 18, she met artist Willem de Kooning in a Manhattan cafeteria. She began studying with him at his studio. They were married in December of 1943.

Elaine de Kooning worked in a defense plant in the 1940s and she and Willem socialized with the growing artist community in Greenwich Village. She began to experiment with absraction in her painting and in 1948 accompanied Willem to Black Mountain Summer Institiute in North Carolina where she met Buckminster Fuller, John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

De Kooning's first solo exhibition was in 1952 at the Stable Gallery in New York and she also exhibited at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in the decade of the 50s. An insightful writer and lecturer on art, she held teaching posts at many colleges and universities, including Yale, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Georgia, Bard College, the Cooper Union and the Parsons School of Fine Art in New York.

Elaine and Willem separated amicably in 1957 and reunited in 1975 and bought a house in North Hampton, New York.

Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York and in a number of other institutions throughout the country. She had been selected by the White House to do a portrait of President John F. Kennedy, and was working on it when he was assassinated, which affected her profoundly.

Elaine de Kooning died on February 1, 1989 in Southhampton, New York.