Willem de Kooning was born April 24, 1904, in Rotterdam.
From 1916 to 1925, he studied at night at the Academie voor Beeldende
Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, Rotterdam, while apprenticed to a
commercial-art and decorating firm and later working for an art director.
In 1924 he visited museums in Belgium and studied further in Brussels and
Antwerp. De Kooning came to the United States in 1926 and settled briefly
in Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked as a house painter before moving to New
York in 1927, where he met Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, and John Graham.
He took various commercial-art and odd jobs until 1935, when he was
employed in the mural and easel divisions of the WPA Federal Art Project.
Thereafter he painted full-time. In the late 1930s his abstract as well as
figurative work was primarily influenced by the
Surrealism of Pablo Picasso and also by
Gorky, with whom he shared a studio.
In 1938 de Kooning started his first series of Women,
which would become a major recurrent theme. 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
allover 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
In 1968 de Kooning visited the Netherlands for the first
time since 1926 for the opening of his retrospective at the Stedelijk
Museum, Amsterdam. In Rome in 1969 he executed his first
sculptures—figures modeled in clay and later cast in bronze—and in 1970–71
he began a series of life-size figures. In 1974 the Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis, organized a show of de Kooning’s drawings and sculpture that
traveled throughout the United States, and in 1978 the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum, New York, mounted an exhibition of his recent work. In
1979 de Kooning and Eduardo Chillida received the Andrew W. Mellon Prize,
which was accompanied by an exhibition at the Museum of Art, Carnegie
Institute, Pittsburgh. De Kooning settled in the Springs, East Hampton,
Long Island, in 1963. He was honored with a retrospective at the Museum of
Modern Art, New York, in 1997. The artist died on March 19, 1997, on Long