Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) was born and raised in New York City. She grew up painting and visiting galleries and museums. In grade school she painted and sold portraits of her classmates. After high school, she enrolled in the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School. When she was 18 she met Willem de Kooning and he began to instruct her in painting and drawing. In 1943, they were married.
Despite the strict cultural roles of wives at the time, Elaine was devoted to her art and never gave up her representation. She was especially fond of portraiture, for which she was well recognized in the 1950s and 1960s. Elaine’s most famous portrait commission was of President John F. Kennedy, which she was still working on at the time of his assassination. Her style melded abstraction with the human figure in quick improvisational strokes of color.
Despite Elaine’s admirable artistic ability, she spent a sizable amount of her life ensuring her husband’s success. They were never divorced although they separated for around 20 years; eventually reuniting in 1976. During her career her work was shown in numerous galleries throughout the country. Over time her paintings and lithographs have drawn increasing acclaim, and in 2015 she was the subject of a major exhibition of her portraits at the National Gallery in Washington D.C.