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The Wave

ca. 1942-1944 Willem de Kooning Born: Rotterdam, Netherlands 1904 Died: East Hampton, New York 1997 oil on fiberboard 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift from the Vincent Melzac Collection 1980.6.1 Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, North Wing


Gallery Label

In The Wave, an elegant looping line suggests a figure reclining before a window or a door. An intense red orb floats in the green murk. Painting quickly, Willem de Kooning applied layers of wet paint atop one another. Not long after this work was finished, cracks emerged near the center of the image, damage that de Kooning accepted as an accidental element of the painting. The Wave was among the canvases that brought the artist to the attention of Peggy Guggenheim at the Art of This Century gallery in 1945. Within a few years, de Kooning became one of America's most celebrated abstract painters.

Luce Center Label

In The Wave, Willem de Kooning divided large areas of color with contoured lines to create shapes that suggest distorted figures. The dramatic composition of cool greens and blues in the background offset by brighter reds, pinks, and yellows in the foreground attract your eyes to every corner of the canvas. The Wave was first exhibited in New York in 1945 at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery, a major showcase for the surrealists in exile; the exhibit significantly advanced de Kooning's career in the mid-1940s. By 1950, he emerged as a key figure in the abstract expressionist movement, and his monumental series titled Woman brought him considerable notice.

Artwork Description

In The Wave, Willem de Kooning divided large areas of cool marine colors with contoured lines to create shapes that suggest distorted figures. An elegant looping line like the automatic drawing of the surrealists suggests a figure reclining before a window or a door. Painting quickly, de Kooning applied layers of wet paint atop one another. Not long after this work was finished, cracked emerged near the center of the image. Like a good surrealist, de Kooning accepted the damage as an accidental element of the painting and did not repair it.

Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.

Keywords

Abstract

painting

paint - oil

fiberboard

About Willem de Kooning

Born: Rotterdam, Netherlands 1904 Died: East Hampton, New York 1997

More works in the collection by
Willem de Kooning