Tagged: Willem de Kooning

Born on April 24, 1904, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Willem de Kooning embarked on a journey that would take him from an impoverished childhood in Europe to the pinnacle of the American art world.

Arriving in the United States as a stowaway in 1926, de Kooning settled in New York City, where he would later become a central figure in the development of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Early Life and Training

Willem’s early life was marred by his parents’ divorce. Raised by his mother, he attended the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques, where he trained as a traditional artist. His early works were mostly figurative, drawing inspiration from the world around him. This foundational training would later influence his approach to abstraction.

The Emergence of an Abstract Artist

While de Kooning’s initial works in New York were mostly in line with the prevailing realist styles, the 1940s witnessed a significant transformation in his approach. He began to experiment with abstraction, blending it with figuration. His art became a dynamic interplay between the two, often characterized by aggressive brushstrokes and a vivid palette.

Art Style

Willem de Kooning’s style is best described as “gestural abstraction.” His works are energetic, characterized by sweeping brushwork, scraping, and the application of paint in thick layers. This technique, known as “action painting,” gives a sense of movement and spontaneity to his canvases.

While many Abstract Expressionists veered entirely towards non-representational art, de Kooning retained a connection with the human figure, especially the female form. His “Woman” series, started in the 1950s, is a testament to this enduring fascination. These works, often considered controversial, combined abstraction with distorted representations of the female body, exuding both allure and aggression.

Color was another significant element in de Kooning’s oeuvre. While his early works favored a more muted palette, his later paintings, especially those after his move to Long Island in the 1960s, exploded with bright, vivid colors, reflecting the landscapes and light of his surroundings.

Major Works and Facts

  1. “Woman I” (1950-52): Perhaps the most famous in his series, “Woman I” is a startling blend of a grotesque, almost monstrous, female figure set against an abstract background. It’s a confrontational piece, both in subject and technique.
  2. Shift to Sculpture: In the 1970s, de Kooning ventured into sculpture, applying his gestural style to this new medium. His sculptures, often in bronze, displayed the same sense of movement and fluidity as his paintings.
  3. Struggles with Health: By the 1980s, the artist’s health began to decline. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, which affected his ability to paint. Despite this, he continued to produce artworks, albeit with a noticeable change in style, marked by clearer lines and more serene compositions.
  4. Legacy: De Kooning’s influence on the art world is profound. He, along with other Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, redefined the boundaries of art. His fusion of abstraction and figuration has inspired countless artists, making him a pivotal figure in 20th-century art.
  5. Death and Posthumous Recognition: Willem de Kooning passed away on March 19, 1997. In the years following his death, his artworks have fetched astronomical prices at auctions, reinforcing his stature in the art world. In 2006, his painting “Woman III” was sold for $137.5 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
  6. Evolving Artistic Phases: De Kooning’s art was not static. Over the decades, he transitioned from figuration to abstraction, from dark, aggressive tones to brighter, more optimistic hues. This evolution is a testament to his constant exploration and unwillingness to be confined by any singular style.


Willem de Kooning’s journey from a struggling immigrant to a celebrated artist is emblematic of the American dream. His relentless pursuit of innovation, combined with his exceptional talent, made him a cornerstone of modern art. Through his paintings and sculptures, de Kooning challenged conventional norms, pushing the boundaries of what art could be and leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and provoke.