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Artists Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning Photo

Willem de Kooning

Dutch-American Draftsman, Painter, and Sculptor

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: April 24, 1904 - Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Died: March 19, 1997 - East Hampton, New York

Willem de Kooning Timeline

Quotes

"I don't paint to live, I live to paint"
Willem de Kooning
"I'd like to get all the colors in the world into one painting".
Willem de Kooning
"I never was interested in how to make a good painting.. But to see how far one can go".
Willem de Kooning
"Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped up in the melodrama of vulgarity."
Willem de Kooning
"I don't paint with ideas of art in mind. I see something that excites me. It becomes my content."
Willem de Kooning
"Even abstract shapes must have a likeness."
Willem de Kooning
"I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art."
Willem de Kooning
"Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented."
Willem de Kooning

"I'm not interested in 'abstracting' or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it - drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea."

Willem de Kooning Signature

Synopsis

After Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters. His pictures typify the vigorous gestural style of the movement and he, perhaps, did more than any of his contemporaries to develop a radically abstract style of painting that fused Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. Although he established his reputation with a series of entirely abstract pictures, he felt a strong pull towards traditional subjects and would eventually become most famous for his pictures of women, which he painted in spells throughout his life. Later he turned to landscapes, which were also highly acclaimed, and which he continued to paint even into his eighties, when his mind was significantly impaired by Alzheimer's disease.

Key Ideas

De Kooning strongly opposed the restrictions imposed by naming movements and, while generally considered to be an Abstract Expressionist, he never fully abandoned the depiction of the human figure. His paintings of women feature a unique blend of gestural abstraction and figuration. Heavily influenced by the Cubism of Picasso, de Kooning became a master at ambiguously blending figure and ground in his pictures while dismembering, re-assembling and distorting his figures in the process.
Although known for continually reworking his canvases, de Kooning often left them with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as if the forms were still in the process of moving and settling and coming into definition. In this sense his paintings exemplify 'action painting' - they are like records of a violent encounter, rather than finished works in the old Beaux Arts tradition of fine painting.
Although he came to embody the popular image of the macho, hard-drinking artist - and his most famous Women series seems painted with angry vigor - de Kooning approached his art with careful thought and was considered one of the most knowledgeable among the artists associated with the New York School. He is thought to have possessed the greatest facility and polished techniques of painters in the New York School, one that compares to that of Old Masters, and he looked to the likes of Ingres, Rubens and Rembrandt for inspiration.

Biography

Willem de Kooning Photo

Childhood / Early Training

Born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1904, Willem de Kooning was raised mostly by his mother, who owned a bar, after his parents divorced when he was three. He found his vocation early and left school when he was twelve to apprentice at a commercial design and decorating firm. He also studied at Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. During this period, he became interested in Jugendstil, the German variant of Art Nouveau, and its organic forms were significant in shaping his early style. However, he was soon distracted by the ascendant Dutch movement De Stijl, becoming particularly interested in its emphasis on purity of color and form, and its conception of the artist as a master craftsman.

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Willem de Kooning Biography Continues

Important Art by Willem de Kooning

The below artworks are the most important by Willem de Kooning - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Seated Woman (1940)
Artwork Images

Seated Woman (1940)

Artwork description & Analysis: Seated Woman was de Kooning's first major painting of a woman, and it evolved, curiously, out of a commission for a slightly earlier picture, Portrait of a Woman (c.1940). The artist seems to have held on to the commissioned portrait and started to use it to develop new pictures. The earlier work was shaped in part by contemporary images of women in magazines and by de Kooning's wife Elaine who had even stood in as a model when the portrait's subject was not available. These factors surely encouraged de Kooning to see the possibilities of using a 'portrait' to represent womankind in general, rather than a specific individual. Seated Woman was also undoubtedly influenced by Arshile Gorky, in particular the figurative The Artist and his Mother, which Gorky worked on for almost fifteen years after 1926.

Oil and charcoal on masonite - The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Pink Angels (1945)
Artwork Images

Pink Angels (1945)

Artwork description & Analysis: Pink Angels marked an important stage in de Kooning's evolution from figuration towards abstraction in the 1940s. The fleshy pink biomorphs of his earlier work - shapes that evoke eyes and other anatomical forms - are violently torn apart in a painting that was reportedly inspired by the carnage of World War II, and the figurative elements are barely distinguishable from the mustard yellow background. This thorough blurring of figure and ground was an important step in de Kooning's development towards the black and white paintings of the later part of the decade.

Oil and charcoal on canvas - Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, Los Angeles

Attic (1949)
Artwork Images

Attic (1949)

Artwork description & Analysis: In 1947, de Kooning embarked on a series of black and white abstractions. Attic is one of the best known among these, having been widely exhibited in the years after its completion. "Everything that passes me I can see only a little of," the artist once said, "but I am always looking. And I see an awful lot sometimes." He might well have said this of Attic, as it seems to combine fragments of figures and backgrounds in a highly abstract and dynamic whirl. Although de Kooning is said to have been prompted to begin the series through lack of funds (he found a cheap supply of black commercial enamel), many artists in this period were experimenting with black and white. To a greater or lesser degree Motherwell, Kline, Baziotes, Gottlieb and Hofmann all worked in the restricted palette, and Picasso's Guernica, which was exhibited in New York in 1939, provided them with an illustrious model.

Oil, enamel, and newspaper transfer on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

More Willem de Kooning Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Willem de Kooning
Interactive chart with Willem de Kooning's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Joan MirĂ³Joan MirĂ³
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Chaim SoutineChaim Soutine

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Franz KlineFranz Kline
John GrahamJohn Graham

Movements

CubismCubism
De StijlDe Stijl
SurrealismSurrealism
ExpressionismExpressionism

Influences on Artist
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Years Worked: 1930 - 1990
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Joan MitchellJoan Mitchell
Franz KlineFranz Kline
Richard DiebenkornRichard Diebenkorn
Cecily BrownCecily Brown

Personal Contacts

Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

Useful Resources on Willem de Kooning

Books

Articles

Audio

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

De Kooning: An American Master Recomended resource

By Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan

Willem de Kooning 1904-1997: Content as a Glimpse

By Barbara Hess

paintings

Willem de Kooning: Works, Writings, Interviews

Ediciones Poligrafa

Willem de Kooning: The Artist's Materials Recomended resource

By Susan Lake

More Interesting Books about Willem de Kooning
De Kooning, 20th Century Master, Dies

By David Lister
The Independent
March 20, 1997

Willem de Kooning Dies at 92; Reshaped U.S. Art

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
March 20, 1997

Review of an Exhibition of Willem de Kooning Recomended resource

Greenberg, Clement. Collected Essays Volume 2, 228

American Action Painters Recomended resource

Harold Rosenberg

De Kooning: An American Master

December 19, 2004
NPR.org
The story of his life and influence on American art is told in the new book De Kooning: An American Master

transcripts

De Kooning Interview

ARTnews
November 2008

in pop culture

Movie: Pollock Recomended resource

De Kooning is portrayed by Val Kilmer in a small supporting role

Strokes of Genius: de Kooning on de Kooning

By Dustin Hoffman, Charlotte Zwerin

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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