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Last de Kooning painting consigned to Keno Auctions by artist's caregiver Grace Tafe
Says Grace Tafe, who now resides in suburban Atlanta, “I was looking for work and came across an ad for a nurse’s assistant in the local East Hampton paper. “I remember calling on a Saturday and received a return call immediately and was hired to come to work the following day. I was told this person was very famous and I wasn’t to tell anyone about who I was going to be caring for.
NEW YORK, NY.- Keno Auctions announced that the last work painted by Willem de Kooning will be sold at its October 30 auction, 127 East 69th Street. The oil –on- canvas is conservatively estimated at $80,000- 120,000 and has been consigned by Grace Tafe, the artist’s beloved caregiver who was by his side for eight years starting in 1988. De Kooning painted this work for her in 1989.

“This is the final work created by Willem de Kooning, and we are thrilled to offer a painting by one of the great modern artists of our time,” says Leigh Keno. “Ms. Tafe’s recollections of her time with de Kooning provide a rare glimpse into the artist’s remaining years. The photographs of him which accompany this work, brush in hand, creating this painting for Ms. Tafe are a rare document of his creative process.”

Says Grace Tafe, who now resides in suburban Atlanta, “I was looking for work and came across an ad for a nurse’s assistant in the local East Hampton paper. “I remember calling on a Saturday and received a return call immediately and was hired to come to work the following day. I was told this person was very famous and I wasn’t to tell anyone about who I was going to be caring for. When I arrived to the house on 182 Woodbine Drive, East Hampton, NY, I was relieving a nurse’s aide. When I first looked at the artwork, I remember saying “he’s famous, I could just throw paint on the canvas”. I was in my early 20’s, and knew nothing about art, nor how to appreciate it. For the next 8 years with Bill, I was basically with him around the clock, 3 to 4 days out of the week.”

According to the nurse, the first year she worked with him, his studio was a beehive of activity with assistants, his wife, mother and friends stopping in daily to say hello, share a meal and see how he was faring.

“Antoinette Gay and Jennifer McLaughlin worked as studio techs. We all became very close,” she recalls. “Elaine de Kooning would occasionally stop by to check in on him. Joan Ward, Lisa de Kooning’s mother, would stop in and was often there to socialize with Bill at meals. We would prepare meals together and all sit down and eat with Bill. We had a lot of good memories and were like family. In the day, Antoinette would come in and prepare Bill’s paints and open the studio for him to go in and work. Prior to that, Antoinette would put on some classical music. Bill loved his music, it was very soothing to him.”

“Once, he contracted pneumonia and we checked him in at the Southampton hospital. I spent a whole week with him while he was there”.

Tafe continues, “When the public thought he closed his studio and stopped painting, that just meant that nothing was recorded from a certain date. However, Bill still loved to go into his studio and paint a little from time to time. Bill and I would turn the lights on at night and put on Beethoven, he would come alive. Lisa lived next door and would see his studio lights on and would come over with her husband, Christian, and their daughter, Isabelle. Bill was a night owl.”

“One day I asked Bill if he would paint for me and he did. I would put on his favorite classical music and Bill would light up and hum to the music as he walked around his home. I put the canvas on the kitchen table-. He would look at the canvas, paint a few strokes, walk away, get lost in the music, and come back. “

“Bill was always the happiest when he was painting. Even though there was controversy about his mental status at this time, we knew him to be a very loving man. Yes, he had his moments, but whenever he painted, he was not to be disturbed. He would look at the canvas for what seemed like hours, walk around, and then come back to it until he eventually painted.”





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October 9, 2013

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