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A prolific and gifted artist in her own right, Elaine de Kooning’s career was undoubtedly impacted by the The Patriarchy.

Like many female artists before and after her, she contended with the overshadowing reputation of a famous husband, dealt with marital strife under public scrutiny, and wrestled a spot for herself in the male-dominated New York City art world.

In 1938, when she was 20, Elaine fell in love with Willem de Kooning. He was her private art teacher and 13 years her senior. He was also a heavyweight in the New York art scene, with contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Though he will arguably always be more famous, Elaine asserted that she was just as entitled to her place in abstract expressionism as any man. She would go out drinking with Willem and his pals at Cedar’s Tavern, a popular Greenwich Village artist’s dive, and debate art theory with the best of them.

Once they were married, Elaine threw herself into promoting Willem’s career as much as sustaining her own. It’s even rumored that she had affairs with influential critics, editors and gallerists in the hopes of furthering her husband’s success.

Willem and Elaine stayed married for 46 years, although they lived apart for 20 (seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill compromise for artist couples of the 20th century--see Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera, and Georgia O’Keeffe/Alfred Stieglitz). Willem was an alcoholic and notorious womanizer; he had numerous affairs during their separation, and even fathered a child, Lisa, with another woman.

Among Elaine’s better known figurative paintings are those of celebrities. In 1963, she was commissioned to paint a luminous, 10-foot portrait of JFK. After the president’s death, Elaine refrained from painting for an entire year.

Elaine was a devoted teacher as well as artist. She held positions at Cooper Union, Yale, and Bard, and likened herself to a “fairy godmother” for emerging young artists.

At the time of Elaine’s death in 1989, Willem was suffering severely from Alzheimer’s. He wasn’t told she had died until months later. But her legacy lives on; Elaine’s home and studio in the Hamptons (that she sometimes shared with Willem) now houses an artist residency program.




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Here is what Wikipedia says about Elaine de Kooning

Elaine Marie Catherine de Kooning (Dutch: [də ˈkoːnɪŋ], née Fried; March 12, 1918 – February 1, 1989) was an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter in the post-World War II era. She wrote extensively on the art of the period and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Elaine de Kooning