Willem de Kooning:
April 24,1904-March 19,1997...Holland/United States
was the reason why oil painting was invented."
~Willem de Kooning
Abstract Expressionist, Willem de Kooning, spent a career moving between figuration and abstraction. He first studied art at
the Rotterdam Academy of Arts. There he began working in a realistic style, far from what he became known for, but this high
degree of rendering ability was and continues to be a foundation in art training.
De Kooning moved to the United States
in 1926. He first worked as a carpenter and house painter in the New Jersey area. During the Depression stricken 1930’s,
De Kooning painted several murals as a part of the governmental WPA Federal Art Project. By the mid-1930’s he decided
to be an artist full time. He was influenced by Arshile Gorky and Pablo Picasso but simply loved art, saying "I am an eclectic artist by choice;
I can open almost any book of reproductions and find a painting I could be influenced by." He was the major rival, as well as a drinking buddy, with fellow abstractionist Jackson Pollock. He had his first one-man show in 1948 at the Egan Gallery in New York.
De Kooning first explored the subject of women in 1938. Many have an aggressive slash and stab look about them, like
Woman from 1954. Two Women,
made in 1955, sold in 1983 for one-million, two hundred ten thousand dollars. This is the highest amount ever paid to a working
After this period, he began to create other works that looked at urban landscapes until 1964, when he returned to women.
He began to cast works in bronze
in 1969. He was very productive and had a lot of successes through to the early 1980’s. At this time he was not controlling
his alcoholic tendencies well and his friends became concerned for his well-being. He and his wife were separated since 1955,
but she agreed to return if he quit drinking alcohol. They got back together in 1981. And again, he was gaining success. His
production was high, but the quality was not as good as it had once been. Everything looked the same. He was mentally slipping.
De Kooning was diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease in 1989. Due to this development, his business was put largely in the care
of his daughter Lisa
. He was productive through 1990, although these works are considered unfinished due to his condition, and he puttered around
his studio in East Hampton, New York until his death in 1997.