ELAINE AND BILL: PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE by Lee Hall

ELAINE AND BILL: PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE

The Lives of Willem and Elaine de Kooning
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An unvarnished life of ``action painter'' Willem de Kooning and his artist-wife, by Hall (past president of the Rhode Island School of Design; Betty Parsons, 1991--not reviewed). While focusing on the deeply troubled relationship between the introverted Dutch-born Abstract Expressionist and the ebullient Brooklyn woman he married, Hall also presents an overview of the couple's art-world contemporaries: Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner; Arshile Gorky; Robert Motherwell; David Smith; Franz Kline--in Hall's telling, a pretty unappealing lot of bed-hopping brawlers, blowhards, and bigots. The de Kooning marriage was an open one with each partner engaging in a seemingly endless series of affairs: As her husband's reputation as a leader of the emerging New York School of the 1950's gathered steam, Elaine, in order to further his career, embarked on affairs with art critics Thomas Hess and Harold Rosenberg. Even so, fellow action-painter Jackson Pollock's reputation outshone de Kooning's, at least in the popular press, and the two men became rivals, not only for artistic kudos but also for women. Who could best hold his liquor also became a point of contention, though both ended up as alcoholics. When Pollock was killed in a car crash while drunk, de Kooning's reputation as ``the greatest American painter'' soared. His works commanded higher and higher prices--but his drinking escalated as well. The de Koonings eventually separated after Willem fathered an illegitimate child and Elaine sank into dipsomania. But after 20 years, the couple reunited, and Elaine, recovering from alcoholism, devoted her final years to protecting the health and reputation of her husband, who became ever more reclusive and detached. In 1989, Elaine died of lung cancer; today, the ``American Picasso'' has been declared mentally incompetent, his daughter and a lawyer acting as his co-conservators. Written in pedestrian prose--but nonetheless a continually engrossing, if depressing, portrait of an American master. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: June 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-018305-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993




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