Willem de Kooning

Seated Figure on a Bench


Willem de Kooning 1904–1997
Object: 965 × 940 × 829 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

De Kooning began making sculpture in 1969, having previously discarded the idea much earlier in his career. This sculpture is one of his largest and was modelled in clay. Because his hands were too small to work the clay in the way he wanted, he wore two oversize pairs of workman's gloves, thereby ending up with fingers five or six inches long. The increase in size of his hands allowed him to work more broadly than he would have otherwise been able. De Kooning's interest in the expressiveness of the material falls within the tradition of sculpture beginning with Rodin and taken up by Giacometti.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘de Kooning/4/7’ on back of figure's right shoulder
Bronze, 38 × 37 × 32 1/2 (96.5 × 94 × 83)
Purchased from Hans Strelow (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: With Hans Strelow, Dusseldorf (purchased from the artist through Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York)
Exh: de Kooning: Drawings/Sculptures, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March–April 1974 (146, repr.); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, June–July 1974 (146, repr.); Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., September–October 1974 (146, repr.); Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, December 1974–January 1975 (146, repr.); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February–April 1975 (146, repr.); de Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture 1967–1975, Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach, December 1975–February 1976 (25, repr.in colour); de Kooning: Lithographs, Sculpture, Painting, University Art Museum, Austin, Texas, October–November 1976 (no catalogue); Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, University of Texas, Houston, Texas, January–February 1977 (no catalogue); de Kooning, Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, September–October 1977 (no catalogue); Museum des Geldes, Städtische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, November 1978–February 1979 (works not listed, repr.in colour)
Lit: Peter Schjeldahl, ‘De Kooning's Sculptures: Amplified Touch’ in Art in America, LXII, March–April 1974, pp.60 and 62, repr.p.60
Repr: Art News, LXXI, September 1972, p.58 (a cast with the figure on a different, completely regular bench); Harold Rosenberg, de Kooning, New York 1973, pl.197; The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.52

Xavier Fourcade, who is de Kooning's agent and watched this work being made, has contributed the following note (letter of 1 September 1982)

'When deKooning decided to make life-size sculpture in 1970, he realized that his hands were too small to work with clay the way he liked to do it, to make large work. He therefore put on his hands one on top of the other two oversized pairs of workman's gloves, and therefore ended up with fingers five or six inches long.

'Bill deKooning actually used those gloves to make the hands of the Seated Woman on a Bench, as well as the left hand or its shadow, of the large torso.

'The figure itself was modelled on a rough wooden and metal wire frame, which still appears here and there in the sculpture. That frame was held to a heavy stand by a metal pipe, which was completely outside the sculpture, and was later cut. Part of the pipe is still visible in the back of the sculpture between the shoulders.

'This way, deKooning could work on his figure at the proper height, and he completed the figure leaving it floating in the air without anything to support the figure except the pipe in the back.

'Something had to be done in order for the figure, which was obviously seated, to sit on something. At that point, deKooning had lost interest in the sculpture, and had already moved to something else. I kept insisting that we could not present the sculpture like this and that he should find a solution to support it. I suggested casting some object which was in the studio and which would have the proper height. Bill's assistant made a little steel bench of the correct height, which was quite ridiculous and totally unacceptable. At this point, deKooning decided to go back to the sculpture, and to model a seat, which he did. Bill's assistant then made a mold around the clay seat to make a plaster cast in the studio, as was done for all of Bill's sculpture. When this was finished, Bill was faced with his seat in plaster, and the mold, which had been cut in two horizontally to free the plaster. He then thought that the mold looked much better than what he had done and decided to use the lower section of the mold as the seat. However, as the seat had been removed from the inside of the mold, the mold was not at the proper height to support the sculpture. Bill deKooning simply added one or two pieces of wood inside the mold to obtain the proper height for the sculpture and sent it to the foundry. If you look at the seat, you can clearly see that it is in a way a found object and you see all the rough metal wires and other things of which the mold was made. If you look under the sculpture you can see the shape of the pieces of wood between the sculpture and the bottom of the mold. It is perfectly clear that the mold is the mold, as the legs are hollow because they originally contained the legs of deKooning's seat. The seat was subsequently destroyed.’

The sculpture has been cast in an edition of seven bronzes numbered from one out of seven to seven out of seven, and three artist's proofs, one in the possession of the artist, one in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and one at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Tate's cast is no.4 out of 7.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984


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