Elaine Fried de Kooning was an artist, writer, and wife during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Being a painter came first, yet her relationship to one of the dominant figures of the movement shaped her existence. She was a twenty-year old art student in 1938 when she first met Willem de Kooning, the Dutch painter sixteen years her senior. Elaine’s boyfriend at the time, Milton Resnick, claimed Bill de Kooning “seduced her by teaching her art.” She subsequently became de Kooning's model and the inspiration for his famous paintings of women. They were married in 1943.
As a child, Elaine Fried, a native of Brooklyn, New York, made regular visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At Erasmus High School, she excelled in writing and math, but after a few weeks at Hunter College in Manhattan she dropped out to study at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School and the American Artists School.
In the spring of 1948, the de Koonings were struggling to make ends meet. When an invitation came from Josef Albers to teach at his experimental program near Asheville, North Carolina, they jumped at the chance. The couple thrived at Black Mountain College, especially Elaine who took classes with Albers, Buckminster Fuller, and Merce Cunningham. She was actively involved in the social life of the college, participated in theatrical performances, and painted bold organic abstractions on wrapping paper with enamel paint.
De Kooning became a writer for the influential magazine Art News in 1948. Over the next forty years as a contributor, she ran a series of articles in which she described artists at work—a novel approach in art criticism, as was her positive tone. As a fellow artist, she had access to individuals creating in a broad range of styles and shared a unique rapport with her subjects, who included Albers, Andrew Wyeth, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, and Edwin Dickinson.
In her own work, de Kooning vacillated between complete abstraction and representational imagery. A respected portrait painter, she was at work on a commission of her most famous subject, President John F. Kennedy, at the time of his assassination in 1963. De Kooning worked almost obsessively in series that dealt with such subjects as faceless men, bullfighters, Bacchus, cave paintings, and Sumi drawings.
Vivacious and energetic, Elaine de Kooning was a full participant in the heady and collegial environment of New York’s art scene, which included weekly discussions, lectures, and parties. Although frequently overshadowed by her husband and their tumultuous relationship, she successfully gained recognition for herself. Her 1954 one-artist exhibition at the Stable Gallery was the first of over fifty solo and group exhibitions in the United States, many occurring during the halcyon days of the feminist movement and after she turned sixty.
She held numerous teaching positions. From 1957 to 1962 she was at the University of New Mexico, and later taught at the University of Georgia (as the Lamar Dodd Visiting Professor of Art), Carnegie Mellon Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University graduate school.
9th Street Art Exhibition, the first "New York Painters and Sculptors Annual Exhibition" and subsequent 5 New York Artists' Annual Exhibitions, Stable Gallery, New York, 1951, 1953-1957
Stable Gallery, New York, 1954, 1956
"Abstract Expressionism", by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1956
"Young American Painters", The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1956
"Pittsburgh International", Carnegie Institute, 1956
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1957
Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, 1958
"Action Painting, 1958", The Dallas Contemporary, Texas, 1958
Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut, 1959
Ellison Gallery, Fort Worth, Texas, 1960
"Abstract Expressionists Painting of the Fifties", The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960
Graham Gallery, New York, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1975
The Whitney Museum of American Art Annuals and Biennials, New York, 1961
"25 Portraits of J.F.K.", Peale House Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1964
"67th Annual American Exhibition: Directions in Contemporary Painting and Sculpture", The Art Institute of Chicago, 1964
Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, 1973
"Bacchus, Works on Paper", Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and Library, Laurel, Mississippi, 1979
"The Fifties: Aspects Painting in New York", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1980
"Heads: An Exhibit of Portraits", C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, 1980
Gruenebaum Gallery, New York, 1982
"Elaine de Kooning and the Bacchus Motif", Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1983
"Elaine de Kooning: New Paintings", C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, 1984
"Four Centuries of Women's Art", the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1990
"East Hampton Avant-Garde, A Salute to the Signa Gallery", Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, 1990
"Black Mountain Paintings from 1948", Joan T. Washburn Gallery, New York, 1991
"Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art 1987–1997", the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1997
"Elaine de Kooning: Portraits", National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2015
"Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present", Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida, 2015
"Expanding the Narrative: Women Artists and Abstract Expressionism", the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2016
"Women in Abstract Expressionism", Denver Art Museum, Colorado, 2016
"Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St," the Katonah Museum of Art, Westchester County, New York, 2019
"Postwar Women:alumnae of the Art Students League of New York 1945-1965", Phyllis Harriman Gallery, Art Students League of New York, curated by Will Corwin, 2019
"9th Street Club", Gazelli Art House, London, curated by Will Corwin, 2020
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
San Diego Museum of Art, California
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens
Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia
Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan
Amarillo Museum of Art, Texas
Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida
Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina