Woman sitting in a chair in a room  with paintings on the wall (Elaine de Kooning self-portrait)

Elaine de Kooning Self-Portrait  Self-Portrait #3 by Elaine de Kooning / Oil on masonite, 1946 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Elaine de Kooning: Portraits

March 13, 2015 - January 10, 2016

Elaine de Kooning’s gestural portraits of friends and family were much admired during her lifetime, and included such well-known Americans as poets Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, critic Harold Rosenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham and painters Willem de Kooning and Fairfield Porter. De Kooning made both abstract and figurative paintings and drawings during the height of Abstract Expressionism in New York City. She is best known for her portrayals of men—Porter once commented that de Kooning’s images of men were “both sympathetic and frighteningly acute.” In her portraits, de Kooning sought and worked to capture the “instantaneous illumination” of recognition: What qualities beyond the attributes of the face make you recognize someone? She characterized her portraits of John F. Kennedy as “a glimpse” of the president through an accumulation of sketches and finished likenesses.