Lisa de Kooning

Jan. 29, 1956 - Nov. 23, 2012
Lisa de Kooning
Rossa W. Cole

    Lisa de Kooning, the only child of the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning and an artist in her own right, died on Nov. 23 at a family home on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands, reportedly from injuries after a fall. She was 56.
    After her father died in his Springs studio in 1997, Ms. de Kooning became, with the attorney John Eastman, the conservator of his vast collection of works, valued at many millions of dollars. Over the years she worked with museums on exhibitions of his paintings. The team was credited for contributing to a major retrospective of de Kooning paintings at the Museum of Modern Art last year.
    John Elderfield, the curator of the MoMA show, was quoted as saying that Ms. de Kooning, who was known for altruism, was “very ebullient and very kind to people. She was really, really proud of her father, but she was also her own person.”
    This week, friends commented on Ms. de Kooning’s generosity to both individuals and to community good works. She contributed time and money to the Head Start program, and acted on her love of animals by donating to organizations that protected them. She supported, among others, LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, and the Watermill Center, whose director, Robert Wilson, called her an angel. She contributed to diverse local institutions including the Springs Fire Department and the East Hampton Day Care Learning Center.
    “Incredibly generous,” said Mary Beth LaPenna, a friend from Springs. Ms. LaPenna said that for all her wealth, her friend had a somewhat tragic life. In her early years she lived a rich, bohemian existence among East Hampton’s artist community, but “the celebrity left her feeling isolated at times,” Ms. LaPenna said. 
    The photographer Doug Kuntz grew up with Ms. de Kooning in Springs. “She was a very generous person. She would do anything for anyone. She helped me, bought my work, believed in me, and she helped others. She was a good friend for a long, long time.”
    She was born Johanna Liesbeth de Kooning on Jan. 29, 1956, in New York City. Her mother was Joan Ward, an artist who illustrated stories for The Star in the 1980s. At the time of her birth her father and his wife, Elaine de Kooning, were separated.
    Lisa de Kooning spent a good part of her youth on Woodbine Drive in Springs, where her father’s studio was located. She had recently begun an artist-in-residence program for young painters there.
    After attending the Springs School, she studied at Bernard Pfriem’s Lacoste School of the Arts in the south of France, where she learned to sculpt. Animals figured prominently in her bronze sculpture, especially cows.
    In her late teens she moved to the East Village, where she became closely acquainted with the city’s chapter of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. It was one of the more colorful periods in an already unconventional life. 
    Ms. de Kooning is survived by three daughters, Isabel, Emma, and Lucy de Kooning Villeneuve. Their father is Christian Villeneuve, Ms. de Kooning’s former husband. The couple divorced in 2002.
    Ms. de Kooning’s death continues to be investigated. A private funeral is planned.