The Wave

Media - 1980.6.1 - SAAM-1980.6.1_2 - 128193
Copied Willem de Kooning, The Wave, ca. 1942-1944, oil on fiberboard, 4848 in. (121.9121.9 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift from the Vincent Melzac Collection, 1980.6.1

Artwork Details

Title
The Wave
Date
ca. 1942-1944
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
4848 in. (121.9121.9 cm)
Credit Line
Gift from the Vincent Melzac Collection
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
Classifications
Highlights
Keywords
  • Abstract
Object Number
1980.6.1

Artwork Description

Born in the Netherlands in 1904, William de Kooning came to the United States in 1926 without a passport or visa, and went on to become a defining figure of the New York School. Like his contemporaries Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock, de Kooning created works premised on painterly improvisation and gestural form. The artist's movements, erasures, and revisions remain clearly visible on the surfaces of his canvases--decades after the pigment has dried, the viewer has the impression of witnessing the works coming into being. De Kooning was unique among his peers in his persistent engagement with the human form. Here, an elegant looping line suggests a figure reclining before a window or a door. Featuring bold brushwork, intense color, and flattened, dissolving forms, The Wave exemplifies de Kooning's simultaneous fascination with representational and abstract modes of expression.

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.
Publication Label

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.