Recurring Waves of Arrival: Elaine de Kooning’s Portraits, from Loft Dwellers …

Elaine de Kooning sketching John F. Kennedy, 1962 December/ Eddie Johnson, photographer. James Graham Sons gallery records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

WASHINGTON DC – “I was enslaved by portraits.” That’s how Elaine de Kooning puts it to filmmaker Betty Jane Thiebaud to describe what happened after her arduous and rewarding commission to paint President John F. Kennedy’s portrait for the Truman Library.

The commission’s timing coincided with her peak creativity. As Elaine de Kooning: Portraits, the current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., demonstrates, by the start of the 1960s, her Abstract Expressionist techniques have become more restrained. With increasing subtlety, her work seeks to arrest moments of personal recognition. This turn results in more meticulous and redolent portraiture than the work of the 1950s (see Instant Illuminations: Elaine de Kooning’s

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