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Reclining Figure


Willem de Kooning


University of Massachusetts, Boston, Campus Center/Wheatley Hall  


University of Massachusetts, Boston, Campus Center/Wheatley Hall
United States
42° 18' 47.7324" N, 71° 2' 13.9596" W










Arts on the Point



The renowned American artist Willem de Kooning is best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings, especially his series of paintings entitled "Woman." In his semi-figurative portraits of the early 1950s, de Kooning repositions the female figure not as a visually pleasing object for the viewer to enjoy, but as an unstable, perhaps even threatening presence constituted by messy brushstrokes and clashing colors. De Kooning did not begin sculpting until fairly late in his career, but his fascination with the human body, and the challenges of rendering it, remained.What are we to make of the title of this sculpture, "Reclining Figure?" The work does seem to hint at anthropomorphic forms—one can identify a protruding limb here, or perhaps a fragment of bone or muscle here—but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to see a complete human body within the mass of metal. Perhaps de Kooning is showing us what a human body might look like if it were torn apart and haphazardly reassembled. The figure’s dissolution contrasts with the strength and durability of the bronze that forms it.  Interestingly, this sculpture began as a small clay cast that de Kooning modeled with his hands. Some of the indentations in the bronze surface resemble thumb imprints, magnified to many times their original size. Thus, the artist’s body lends another layer of physicality to the work.

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