Willem de Kooning


Dutch-American, 1904 – 1997

Willem de Kooning was born in Holland in 1904.  At the early age of 12, de Kooning worked as an apprentice with commercial artists and designers, Jan and Jaay Gidding.  They initiated his interest in art.  Soon he enrolled at Rotterdam Akademie voor Beeldende Kunsten en Wettenschappen, where he received a more academic art education.  Afterwards he worked as a commercial artist.

Willem De KooningIn 1926, Willem de Kooning moved to the United States.  He worked as a commercial artist for many years and in 1935 he created murals for the Federal Arts project. This enabled him to work full time as a fine artist. Around this time de Kooning began painting on an easel.  He was commissioned to paint murals for the New York World’s Fair.

Willem de Kooning became friends Harold Rosenberg, the art critic who helped draw attention to many modern artists working during this time.  Rosenberg helped de Kooning gain a reputation as one of the leading action painting artists.  In 1936, de Kooning was included in the landmark show, New Horizons in American Art at MoMA.

By the 1940s, he began to reach maturity as an Abstract Expressionist.  He had his first solo show at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1948, where he showed mostly black and white paintings.  Willem de Kooning’s style is highly gestural and radically abstract that infuses Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. While he is best known for abstraction, he had a sense of traditional subjects and would become well known for his pictures of women.  Later in life, he also painted landscapes. Artist that influenced de Kooning include Stuart Davis, John GrahamArshile Gorky.

Willem de Kooning had many of solo exhibitions of his work from 1948 to 1966 in New York and both nationally and internationally.  He received many awards during his career, including The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.  His works have been included in the permanent collections of many institutions including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Modern, London;  The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.