Skip to main content

Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham
Usage Conditions Apply
Artist
Elaine de Kooning, 12 Mar 1918 - 1 Feb 1989
Sitter
Merce Cunningham, 16 Apr 1919 - 26 Jul 2009
Date
1962
Type
Painting
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Stretcher: 243.8 x 122.2 x 5.1cm (96 x 48 1/8 x 2")
Frame: 246.4 x 124.8 x 5.1cm (97 x 49 1/8 x 2")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts, Inc.
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
Copyright
© Elaine de Kooning Trust
Object number
NPG.96.127
Exhibition Label
Elaine had known dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham and his partner, the composer John Cage, since the mid-1940s. They had all spent the summer of 1948 at Black Mountain College in western North Carolina, where she, having studied dance as a child, took classes from Cunningham, two hours a day, six days a week. In the portrait, one of Elaine’s series of "standing men" from the early 1960s, Cunningham’s lean body, strong, slanting shoulders, and almost leonine head are captured in a dark silhouette surrounded by thin washes of color. One critic noted of her portraits from this time: "Even when she paints directly, she paints what she remembers of a person—walking, standing, scratching, yawning, thinking, sitting—all of these summed up in a pose. For her each person has his or her pose. The pose is the person. Before setting to work on a portrait, she first visualizes her sitter in their ‘right pose.’"
Elaine conocía al bailarín y coreógrafo Merce Cunningham y su compañero, el compositor John Cage, desde mediados de los años cuarenta. Todos habían pasado el verano de 1948 en el Black Mountain College, al oeste de Carolina del Norte, donde ella, que había tomado clases de ballet cuando niña, ahora estudiaba con Cunningham dos horas al día, seis días a la semana. El retrato pertenece a la serie de “hombres de pie” que Elaine realizó a principios de los años sesenta; capta el cuerpo fuerte y esbelto de Cunningham, sus hombros un tanto caídos y su cabeza casi leonina en una silueta oscura rodeada de finas aguadas de color. Un crítico observó lo siguiente sobre los retratos de esta época: “Incluso cuando pinta del vivo, pinta lo que recuerda de la persona, cómo camina, se para, se rasca, bosteza, piensa, se sienta, todo eso resumido en una pose. Para ella, cada persona tiene su pose única. La pose es la persona. Antes de empezar a trabajar un retrato, primero visualiza a su modelo en ‘la pose correcta’”.
Provenance
The artist; gift to sitter; gift 1963 to Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc., New York; gift 1996 to NPG
Joan T. Washburn to Carolyn Carr, Curator NPG March 8, 1995: “Elaine de Kooning painted Merce Cunningham in 1962 and gave him this portrait….Merce donated his portrait to the Foundation several years ago to be sold for its benefit.”
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Place
United States\New York\Kings\New York