Willem de Kooning (American (born The Netherlands), Rotterdam 1904–1997 East Hampton, New York)

Oil and charcoal on canvas
45 7/8 × 31 3/4 in. (116.5 × 80.6 cm)
Credit Line:
From the Collection of Thomas B. Hess, Gift of the heirs of Thomas B. Hess, 1984
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    Willem de Kooning, born in Rotterdam in 1904, was apprenticed to a commercial arts and decorating firm there from 1916 to 1921. From 1917 to 1921 he also studied at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. In 1926 he left Holland illegally for the United States by working in the engine room of a ship and, newly arrived in New Jersey, supported himself as a house painter. De Kooning moved to New York City in 1927, and within a few years he was friends with the artists John Graham, Stuart Davis, David Smith, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. From the late 1930s through the 1950s his biomorphic abstractions (which allude to figures and landscapes) and his series Women placed him in the center of the Abstract Expressionist art movement. The gestural style of painting and the visual vocabulary of forms that he developed at this time continued to inform his later work. De Kooning was an accomplished draftsman as well as painter and made his first sculptures in 1969.

    "Woman" belongs to his first series of women, begun about 1940. Like other works in this series, the colors are raucously bright — jarring hues of green, ocher, blue, and orange — and the imagery is tenuously balanced between realism and abstraction. An awkwardly posed, somewhat grotesquely formed female figure is broadly painted without modeling. The parts of her body are reduced to independent abstract shapes and lines, as is the spatially flattened environment in which she exists. Her comical, masklike face, with smiling bow-shaped lips and large bulging eyes, adds to the light air of the picture. Although de Kooning's image is recognizable as a woman, the emphasis is on the abstract arrangement of form, line, and color.

  • Provenance

    Edwin Denby and Rudolph Burchardt; Thomas B. Hess (until d. 1978; his heirs, 1978–84)

  • Exhibition History

    New York: Museum of Modern Art. ¦Willem de Kooning¦. March 6 - April 27, 1969, exh. cat. #17. (Work also exhibited at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Gallery, London)

    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art. Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings & Sculpture. December 14, 1983 - February 26, 1984. pg. 152, fig. 153.

    Australia: Australian National Gallery, Mar. 1-Apr. 27, 1986; Queensland Art Gallery, May 7-July 1, 1986. ¦20th Century Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art¦. exh. cat., p. 64 (illus. in color).

    Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 8 May-5 September 1994; New York: MMA, 11 October 1994-January 1995; London: Tate Gallery, 15 February-7 May 1995. ¦Willem de Kooning Paintings¦. Exh. cat. David Sylvester, Richard Shiff & Marla Prather, pl. 5, p. 90 (illus in color).

    Ohio: Univesity Galleries, Wright State Univesity. ¦Figuration: Fairfield Porter, Abstraction: Willem de Kooning¦. Not illustrated in catalogue.

    Munich. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek. "Women: Picasso, Beckmann, de Kooning," March 30–July 15, 2012, no. 15.

  • References

    Cummings, Paul, Jorn Merkert, Claire Stoullig. Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture. New York City. 1983, P. 152, fig. 153.

    Willem de Kooning Paintings. Essays by David Sylvester and Richard Shiff. Washington and New Haven: National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 1994, page 90, catalogue plate 5.

    Willem de Kooning: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture. New York and Munich: The Whitney Museum of American Art, W.W. Norton & Company and Prestal-Verlag, 1983, p. 152, cat. pl. 145.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notable Acquisitions - 1984 - 1985. New York. 1985, pp.56 - 57 (illustrated in color 56).

  • See also