Monday 5 December 2016

What Lies Beneath: Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point

Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point by Willem de Kooning, Oil on canvas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Niall MacMonagle

Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30

Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point by Willem de Kooning.
Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point by Willem de Kooning.

Brooklyn and Louse Point, on opposite ends of Long Island, have Dutch connections. Brooklyn, named after the Dutch village Breukelen, means moor or marshland; and louse, well louse, meaning a parasitic wingless insect, is luis in Dutch. There's a world of difference between a brightening, beautiful dawn and a parasite but here they are, side by side, in Willem de Kooning's chosen title for his big, light-filled canvas from 1963.

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Born in Rotterdam in 1904, de Kooning arrived in the US aged 22, as a stowaway on a freighter, "to become a commercial artist, make a lot of money, play a lot of tennis, and find those long-legged American girls", but painting took over.

"I changed my attitude to art. Instead of doing odd jobs and painting on the side, I painted and did odd jobs on the side."

He struggled for years, claiming: "I'm not poor. I'm broke!" and at one stage only painted in black and white because it was cheaper.

This painting, almost seven foot high, feels like you could step into it. It's nothing like the actual, low-lying Louse Point that looks out over 3,000 miles of Atlantic ocean but de Kooning had no interest in painting what he saw.

In the late 1950s he spent much of his time on Long Island and even though he'd cycle out to Louse Point every day, what he captures here is nothing recognisable. It was painted in his New York studio and using thick application of paint he catches the sensation of being on the eastern end of Long Island watching the sun come up. Memory and intuition come into play here. Splashes of egg-yolk yellow, pale blues and pinks, café-au-lait and orange colours bring the dawn alive. Famous for his "vociferous and ferocious" portraits of women, the flesh pink here feeds into de Kooning's belief that "the landscape is in the Woman and there is Woman in the landscape".

It's an action painting, it's an abstract expressionist work, but above all it's an up-early-in-the-morning work where place, light, colour, movement are all up in the air.

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