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Harold Rosenberg 1906–1978
The critic Harold Rosenberg, a close friend of Elaine de Kooning, became an eloquent and passionate defender of the New York school of abstract expressionist painters, which included Elaine's husband, Willem. In his influential essays, he affirmed the importance of process among the "action painters." The canvas began to appear, he pointed out, "as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or ‘express' an object."

Going against the trend for abstraction that her husband embodied and Rosenberg promoted, Elaine de Kooning was fascinated by portraiture. She sought the essence of the sitter's individuality, fascinated by that particularity of shape, pose, or expression that produced a recognizable likeness. Despite her interest in the figure, de Kooning's gestural brushwork is influenced by the action painters. In this portrait she creates form and mass from dark pools and strokes of ink. But the image that emerges is unambiguously the formidable head of Rosenberg.

Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989)
Ink wash on laid paper, 1967
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Elaine de Kooning Trust
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