Willem de Kooning

born Rotterdam, Netherlands 1904-died East Hampton, NY 1997
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Willem de Kooning, 1946. Photograph by Harry Bowden. Courtesy Harry Bowden papers, 1922-1972, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Also known as
  • Willem De Kooning
Rotterdam, Netherlands
East Hampton, New York, United States
Active in
  • New York, New York, United States

Born in Holland, moved to the United States in 1924. Abstract Expressionist painter, known for his disturbing pictures of women, who became one of the dominant American artists of the 1950s.

Charles Sullivan, ed American Beauties: Women in Art and Literature (New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with National Museum of American Art, 1993)

Artist Biography

Born in Rotterdam in 1904, Willem de Kooning received the most formal academic training in art and applied arts, then worked in a commerical design firm in that city. Immigrating to the United States in 1927, he gravitated to the circle of artists forming in New York around John Graham and Arshile Gorky; the latter in particular became a close friend and confidant. Together, he and Gorky, the more mature painter, explored the problems facing their generation of artists. By the 1940s, de Kooning would execute some the most significant paintings in the era of Abstract Expressionism.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)

Luce Artist Biography

Dutch-born painter Willem de Kooning was a leading figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He studied at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques and, inspired by American illustrators, moved to the United States in 1926, working his way across the Atlantic as a seaman with no passport or visa. After settling in New York, he formed friendships with many of the city's avant-garde artists, including Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky, who influenced de Kooning's early works. In 1938, de Kooning began his well-known series titled Women, paintings with nude female figures as recurring subjects. De Kooning's first solo show in 1948 in New York helped establish him as a major abstract expressionist artist.


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Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
June 18, 2009January 10, 2010
Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the second in a series of special installations, celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper.
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Abstract Drawings
June 14, 2012January 6, 2013
Abstract Drawings presents a selection of forty-six works on paper from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection that are rarely on public display.

Related Books

Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. Exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1860s through the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Traditionally a more intimate form of expression than painting or sculpture, drawings often reveal greater spontaneity and experimentation. Even as works on paper become larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist’s hand, the immediacy of a thought made visible.