Skip to content
Back to List

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning (b. 1904, Rotterdam, Netherlands – d. 1997, East Hampton, NY) was a pioneering figure of Abstract Expressionism and one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Moving seamlessly from figuration to abstraction—and at times working simultaneously in both—de Kooning’s work underwent radical stylistic shifts from decade to decade, continuously evolving and refining.

Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, de Kooning made his career in the United States and became one of the leaders of the New York School by the 1950s. He studied at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, Rotterdam from 1916-1925, before traveling across the Atlantic and briefly settling in Hoboken, NJ. In 1927, de Kooning moved to New York City, and settled into a short-lived career in commercial art. During the Great Depression, de Kooning was commissioned to create murals for the Works Projects Administration, which ultimately convinced him to start painting full-time. Alongside notable New York contemporaries, de Kooning became notorious for rejecting en vogue stylistic norms in line with Regionalism, Cubism or Surrealism. Instead, he began an artistic practice in which the relationship between foreground and background is blurred, and figurative and abstract styles are blended. De Kooning is also known for his purely abstract works.

His first solo show opened at Egan Gallery, New York, in 1948, which solidified his reputation as a major artist. He worked on his famous Woman series between 1950 and 1953, which is emblematic of his exploration of the simultaneously figurative and abstract. The following decade, de Kooning explored imagery that included abstract urban landscapes, parkways, and rural landscapes. During the 1960s, he returned to depicting women. In 1969, he executed his first cast bronze sculptures. The artist moved to the Springs, East Hampton in 1963 and died in Long Island in 1997.

Although de Kooning did not make many prints throughout his career, he made extraordinary lithographs between 1970 and 1971. After a trip to Japan where he was exposed to calligraphy and Sumi brush painting—a traditional Japanese ink and wash technique done with various concentrations of black ink, he made a series of lithographs: 20 on aluminum plates and four on stone, primarily using tusche ink.

Ranging from spare to layered and complex, these prints retain all of the wild gestural style for which de Kooning is known. ‘Minnie Mouse’ (1971), one of the lithographs drawn on stone, is a full, playful composition that explores the full capacity of ink on stone: washes, droplets, heavily inked passages and delicate lines overlap to create this energetic scene.

De Kooning’s five-decade career and his consistent push for artistic innovation left an indelible mark on the post-war art scene in the United States and abroad.

His work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; British Museum, UK; Brooklyn Museum, NY; de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, ES; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Israel Museum, IL; Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, SK; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; McNay Art Museum, TX; Moderna Museet, SE; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, AT; Centre Georges Pompidou, FR; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, ES; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, NL; Museum Ludwig, DE; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, RI; Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, JP; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Canada, Ontario, CA; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, AU; National Museum of Art, Osaka, JP; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, IT; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Pinakothek der Moderne, DE; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Seattle Art Museum, WA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, DE; Stedelijk Museum, NL; Tate Modern, UK; Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, IR; Walker Art Center, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Yale University Art Gallery, CT.

His work has been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Guild Hall Museum (2019), Georgia Museum of Art (2017), Whitney Museum of American Art (2017), Westmoreland Museum of American Art (2017), Weatherspoon Art Museum (2016), Princeton University Art Museum (2016), Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo (2014), Smithsonian American Art Museum (2013), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011), Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2008) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2002). De Kooning was awarded the Andrew W. Mellon prize in 1979, which accompanied an exhibition at the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA.

Read more