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Willem de Kooning (American/Dutch, 1904–1997)
LOT ID: 79133
Clam Digger, 1964

Lithograph
17.1 х 22.4 in. (43.43 x 56.9 cm.)
Signed, stamped, Hand signed in pencil and hand numbered 69/100 by de Kooning with the distinctive blindstamp of the publisher, Irwin Hollander
Edition 100
Foundry/Publisher Irwin Hollander Workshop, Irwin Hollander Inc. Printer, NYC
Print/Casting Year 1964
Edition 69/100
Foundry/Publisher Irwin Hollander Workshop, Irwin Hollander Inc. Printer, NYC
Lot description
Willem de Kooning's 1967 'Clam Digger' is an uncommon and iconic print from one of the most important and influential eras in the artist's development - the mid-Sixties.

This fine lithograph on Arches with desirable deckled edges is from the small limited edition of only 100. It was created as part of the legendary 'Portfolio 9' in 1967. It was housed in a gray cloth-colored box with maroon paper inner panels and a large maroon "9" designed by Richard Lindner on the cover. Portfolio 9 featured nine of the most important artists of the era, representative of the three major trends: Pop Art, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism: Roy Lichtenstein, Saul Steinberg, Richard Lindner, Robert Motherwell, Ellsworth Kelly, Henry Pearson, Louise Nevelson, Sam Francis - and Willem de Kooning. The Introduction to the portfolio was written by Una E. Johnson, Curator of Prints & Drawings, The Brooklyn Museum. Wrote Johnson in 1967 for the colophon page: "The artists were selected to demonstrate the great diversity and character of lithography in the United States today...[the] many faceted idioms that compose this graphic journal mirror the eloquence and delight the strengths and caprices of a period.."

Nearly half a century later, this print has become more scarce, as so many of the 100 are already in the collections of major institutions world wide including the Smithsonian.

In the late Fifties, de Kooning became known primarily as a member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, whose roster included Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell and others. Yet he never abandoned his depiction of the human figure. In 1963, he moved permanently to East Hampton, Long Island and returned to depicting women and also referencing his new seaside environment - exemplified by his iconic 1963 painting CLAM DIGGERS on which this lithograph is based. Clam Digger typifies de Kooning's unique blend of figuration and gestural abstraction, clearly inspired by the Cubism of Picasso. (Indeed, in the 1970s, de Kooning would reprise the theme yet again in a series of lithographs and his famous 1972 'Clam Digger' sculpture acquired by the Whitney.)

The year this print from Portfolio 9 was published -- 1967- Joan Mitchell would recommend de Kooning to the prestigious Knoedler Gallery, which offered him $100,000 per year stipend to give him a "movie star's salary" according to de Kooning's lawyer. Critics widely panned de Kooning's new works, and early supporters like the influential critic Clement Greenberg even suggested he was a traitor to the cause of abstraction. In retrospect, however, many believe that it is exactly this body of work, as exemplified by Clam Digger, that is most important in terms of de Kooning's artistic development and enduring legacy.

De Kooning is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art - the first ever devoted to the full scope of his career. John Elderfield states: "The importance of Willem de Kooning as one of the very foremost artists of the New York School is widely accepted, as is his revolutionary importance to modern art as a whole. Far less well understood is what his artistic career actually comprised in its almost seven decades of development. The exhibition demonstrates how de Kooning never followed any single, narrowly defined path, repudiating the modernist view of art as developing towards an increasingly refined, allover abstraction to find continuity in continual change."

The lithograph offered here has superb provenance: it comes directly from 'Portfolio 9', numbered 69/100. This is the very first time since 1967 that this hand signed & numbered CLAM DIGGER will be separated from the original portfolio presentation box.

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Clam Digger by Willem de Kooning
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