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1904 – 1997

One of the most prominent and celebrated Abstract Expressionist painters, Willem de Kooning explored the dynamic, gestural style of the Abstract Expressionist movement to its full potential. His works, particularly those of the human figure, uniquely blended gestural abstraction and figuration, and were partly influenced by Picasso’s Cubist and Surrealist periods. De Kooning is known for his reworking his pieces, but his works often emanate a sense of incompleteness, as if his abstract forms were still in the process of moving.


Born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands on April 24, 1904, de Kooning arrived in 1926 to New York City as a stowaway. He received classical art training while living in Rotterdam, and made his living painting houses and working with commercial art during his first few years in the United States. On his own time, de Kooning developed his highly unique artistic style, exploring both figurative and abstract painting through the 1930s.


In 1938 De Kooning started his first Women series, which would become a major recurrent theme. He worked on these paintings intermittently for over thirty years, but revised them constantly and sometimes aggressively — he often punctured the canvases with the violence of his brush strokes. During the 1940s, he participated in group shows with other artists who would form the New York school and become known as Abstract Expressionists. De Kooning's first solo show, which took place at the Egan Gallery, New York, in 1948, established his reputation as a major artist; it included a number of the black-and-white abstractions he had initiated in 1946. The Women of the early 1950s were followed by abstract urban landscapes, parkways, rural landscapes, and, in the 1960s, a new group of Women.


Although de Kooning established his reputation with a series of abstract pictures, he felt a strong pull towards traditional subjects and was considered the most erudite out of the New York artists in the Abstract Expressionist generation. In later years, De Kooning’s subject matter turned to landscapes – also highly acclaimed by critics — and even sculpture. He continued to create art until his Alzheimer’s disease made it impossible to continue painting, and he passed away shortly afterwards, in 1997.

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