Sunday, 24 April 2022

'Whose Name Was Writ...'

Born on this day in 1904 (in Rotterdam) was the painter Willem de Kooning, one of the giants of Abstract Expressionism. Much of the work of his supposed prime I don't care for – too violent and ugly (hence, perhaps, the sky-high prices he commanded – see also Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud: ugliness pays). However, I love some of his later works, which engage more with natural forms and the possibilities of colour and – hurrah – beauty. Above is one that caught my eye in the big Abstract Expressionist show in London a few years back. Like all such painterly paintings, it needs to be seen in the original. The title is Whose Name Was Writ in Water, clearly a reference to the epitaph on John Keats's grave in the Cemitero Acattolico in Rome: 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water'. De Kooning was in his 80s when he painted this one, and no doubt thinking of his death and posthumous reputation (which in the event has held up well, though not, of course, as well as Keats's). However, Whose Name Was Writ in Water was not De Kooning's last painting. That was, it seems, this one, untitled like so many of his works, and to my eye one of the best. It was put up for auction, some 25 years after it was painted, by Grace Tafe, the carer who looked after the artist devotedly through the last eight years of his life.  

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