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Artists Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning

Dutch-American Draftsman, Painter, and Sculptor

Willem de Kooning Photo
Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting

Born: April 24, 1904 - Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Died: March 19, 1997 - East Hampton, New York

"I'm not interested in 'abstracting' or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it - drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea."

Willem de Kooning Signature


After Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters. His pictures typify the vigorous gestural style of the movement and he, perhaps, did more than any of his contemporaries to develop a radically abstract style of painting that fused Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. Although he established his reputation with a series of entirely abstract pictures, he felt a strong pull towards traditional subjects and would eventually become most famous for his pictures of women, which he painted in spells throughout his life. Later he turned to landscapes, which were also highly acclaimed, and which he continued to paint even into his eighties, when his mind was significantly impaired by Alzheimer's disease.

Key Ideas

De Kooning strongly opposed the restrictions imposed by naming movements and, while generally considered to be an Abstract Expressionist, he never fully abandoned the depiction of the human figure. His paintings of women feature a unique blend of gestural abstraction and figuration. Heavily influenced by the Cubism of Picasso, de Kooning became a master at ambiguously blending figure and ground in his pictures while dismembering, re-assembling and distorting his figures in the process.
Although known for continually reworking his canvases, de Kooning often left them with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as if the forms were still in the process of moving and settling and coming into definition. In this sense his paintings exemplify Action Painting - they are like records of a violent encounter, rather than finished works in the old Beaux Arts tradition of fine painting.
Although he came to embody the popular image of the macho, hard-drinking artist - and his most famous Women series seems painted with angry vigor - de Kooning approached his art with careful thought and was considered one of the most knowledgeable among the artists associated with the New York School. He is thought to have possessed the greatest facility and polished techniques of painters in the New York School, one that compares to that of Old Masters, and he looked to the likes of Ingres, Rubens and Rembrandt for inspiration.
Willem de Kooning at the presentation of  the 1968 Talens Prize, Amsterdam

Insisting, "I'm not interested in 'abstracting' or taking out or reducing painting," Wilhelm de Kooning disdained any single style. His innovative work synthesized abstraction with figurative elements, as he said, "I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in—drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space."

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