This painting and one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are the most fully realized of Elaine de Kooning’s self-portraits of the 1940s. She was using colors similar to those that her future husband Willem de Kooning was using at the time, but she clearly asserts her own presence and skill.
Clad in trousers, a turtleneck, and a smock, the artist appears to be seated in her studio, working in a sketchbook. She confronts the viewer directly, a hallmark of self-portraits, but nonetheless references other genres. The composition includes a number of still-life objects that reflect her years of intense tutorials with Willem; he compelled her to look at objects and the spaces between them to develop her sense of pictorial organization. As she recalled, “everything was a matter of tension between objects or edges and space.”