- Also known as
Willem de Kooning
primary name: de Kooning, Willem
- individual; painter/draughtsman; sculptor/medallist; American (USA); Dutch; Male
- Life dates
- Born in Rotterdam, de Kooning worked as a decorator's apprentice and graduated from the Rotterdam Academy as an academically trained painter. In 1926 he stowed away on a ship to America and arrived in New York. He became a friend of Arshile Gorky and the émigré intellectual John Graham, and began to paint in a surrealist and experimental manner. He joined the mural division of the New York City WPA/FAP and worked on a mural for the 1939 New York World's Fair.
In 1942 De Kooning became a friend of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, and later became a stalwart of The Club, the meeting place for the young abstract expressionist painters. Discussions on psychoanalysis and Surrealism inspired de Kooning to pursue these ideas in his own paintings. In 1947 he had his first solo exhibition at the Charles Egan Gallery, New York, at which the Museum of Modern Art purchased a painting. The following year he taught at the progressive Black Mountain College, North Carolina. In 1950 he painted the first of his gestural and highly charged canvases in the Woman series, for which he would become best-known. In the same year he was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. In 1957, having separated from his wife, the painter Elaine Fried, whom he had married in 1943, de Kooning spent time with Pollock, Lee Krasner and friends at East Hampton on Long Island. In 1968 the Museum of Modern Art honoured him with a retrospective, which then travelled to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and provided the occasion for the artist's first return visit to Holland.
De Kooning was first introduced to printmaking at Hayter's Atelier 17 in New York, where he worked briefly in about 1943, although no prints have survived. His first recorded etching was made in 1957, when he was invited by Peter Grippe to contribute to the portfolio, 21 Etchings and Poems, published by the Morris Gallery in 1960. In 1960 de Kooning made his first abstract expressionist lithographs at the University of California, Berkeley. Produced with the aid of a mop, they were over a metre in height and at that time the largest artist lithographs. From 1970 to 1971, following a trip to Japan where he was inspired by Sumi calligraphy and Zen Buddhism, he produced twenty-four monochrome lithographs in editions with the printer Fred Genis at Irwin Hollander's workshop in New York. De Kooning also experimented with colour lithography at Hollander's at this time, but rejected the results as failures.
De Kooning returned to his wife Elaine in 1975, and they moved to East Hampton, Long Island. After his retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1984, de Kooning was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; he died at East Hampton in 1997.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, both hold large collections of de Kooning's lithographs.
- David Acton, 'The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints', 2001, (for biography of de Kooning, see p. 172)
Lanier Graham, 'The Prints of Willem de Kooning: A Catalogue Raisonné. I. 1957-1971', Paris: Baudoin Lebon, 1991
John Elderfield et al., 'De Kooning: A Retrospective', exh. cat., New York: Museum of Modern Art and Thames and Hudson, 2011