(1904 – 1997), Netherlands

Willem de Kooning Biography

Willem de Kooning was a Dutch-American artist known for his contribution to the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York throughout the 1940s. He is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, with gestural and experimental paintings that continue to influence the art world today.

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de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1904 into a destitute household. Taking an interest in the arts from a young age, he apprenticed to a prominent design firm where he was encouraged to enrol in night school at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques, now known as the Willem de Kooning Academie. During his time at the academy de Kooning studied fine and commercial arts.

De Kooning moved to the United States in 1926 after a friend helped him stow away on a ship bound for South America. After briefly working as a house painter in New Jersey, de Kooning settled in New York City in 1927, where he established himself as a commercial artist. Living in New York cemented de Kooning's interest in contemporary art, and he became friends with other artists including Arshile Gorky and Stuart Davis. In 1936 de Kooning was commissioned to design public murals by the Works Project Administration Program set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite de Kooning's paintings never being realised for public display, his participation in the project convinced him to pursue a career as an abstract painter.


During the 1940s Willem de Kooning's focused on abstract art and the avant-garde. He worked on creating abstract paintings that rejected traditional painting styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Together with his New York contemporaries, including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, de Kooning forged new forms of painting that deconstructed symbolism through vivid colours and the visceral motions of 'action painting'.

In 1948 de Kooning was invited to display work in his first solo exhibition at Charles Egan Gallery. Here he displayed his black-and-white paintings, a series of thick oil and heavy enamel artwork that is still celebrated today.


Conceivably one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, de Kooning's Excavation (1950) awarded him the Logan Medal and Purchase Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting was exhibited at the 25th Venice Biennale in the same year and exemplifies the artist's gestural style and unusual use of space and abstract imagery.

'Women' Series

De Kooning's 'Women' Series (1950—1953) depicts aggressively painted human figures in vivid colours. These works shocked audiences due to their frightening representation of the female figure, viewed by some as misogynistic and objectifying, and offended those who believed the work's figurative subject to be a regression from the abstract expressionist style.

Despite many perceiving de Kooning's return to figuration as a betrayal of abstract expressionism, the Museum of Modern Art in New York endorsed this change in style as an advancement in de Kooning's creative practice. In 1953, they purchased his work Woman I (1950—1952) for their permanent collection.


Interchange (1955) presents de Kooning's departure from painting the human figure to his focus on abstract urban landscapes. The painting represents a seated woman in a pink mass of hurried brush strokes: a technique de Kooning found himself influenced by in the practice of artist Franz Kline.


The Willem de Kooning Foundation website can be found here.

Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021

Willem de Kooning Featured Artworks

Untitled by Willem de Kooning contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Willem de Kooning Untitled, 1965–80 Pencil on paper
25.4 x 20.3 cm
Xavier Hufkens Contact Gallery
Woman II by Willem de Kooning contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Willem de Kooning Woman II, 1952 Graphite on paper
29.8 x 21.6 cm
Hollis Taggart Enquire
Running Woman by Willem de Kooning contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Willem de Kooning Running Woman, c. 1975 Charcoal and pastel on paper
21.9 x 27.9 cm
Hollis Taggart
Woman by Willem de Kooning contemporary artwork works on paper
Willem de Kooning Woman, c. 1965 Pencil and charcoal on blue-lined ledger paper, laid down on matte board
31.8 x 20.3 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
Untitled (Man in Water) by Willem de Kooning contemporary artwork painting
Willem de Kooning Untitled (Man in Water), 1971 Oil on paper mounted on canvas
41.5 x 32.5 inches
Miles McEnery Gallery

Willem de Kooning Recent Exhibitions

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Willem de Kooning Represented By

Gagosian contemporary art gallery in 980 Madison Avenue, New York, USA
Gagosian Athens, Basel, Beverly Hills, Geneva, Gstaad +6
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, USA
Pace Gallery East Hampton, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles +4

Willem de Kooning In Ocula Magazine

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