Willem de Kooning moved to the United States, from the Netherlands, in 1927 to pursue his goal of being a career artist.  After a short stint working with the Works Project Administration, de Kooning was working in New York along with many other artists which came to be known as the New York School.  This like-minded group of artists worked to create the American style of art, and attempted to legitimize American art.  The New York School was comprised of several notable modern artists including Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollack, to name a few.


De Kooning was involved with the New York-based Abstract Expressionists, who stressed the importance of spontaneity of ‘gestural’ painting where colors is splashed or dribbled onto the canvas. Unlike many members of this group, however, de Kooning did not restrict himself to pure abstraction; his overriding subject has been human (particularly female) figure.  De Kooning strongly opposed the restrictions imposed by naming movements and, while generally considered to be an Abstract Expressionist, he never fully abandoned the depiction of the human figure.  Heavily influenced by the Cubism of Picasso, de Kooning became a master at ambiguously blending figure and ground in his pictures while dismembering, re-assembling and distorting his figures in the process.


In 1963, de Kooning moved from New York City to Springs, in East Hampton, Long Island.  The light and landscape of East Hampton reminded him of his native Holland, and the change in environment was reflected in his work.  His colors softened and figures became loosely painted and fleshy.  In the early 1970’s he explored both sculpture and lithography, producing a sizable body of work while continuing to paint and draw.  In this period, more graphic elements appear in his paintings, some with flat applications of paint as opposed to a more painterly approach.  His lithographs seem to reflect the influence of Japanese ink drawing and calligraphy as many exhibit a newly gained sense of open space, which in turn is also reflected in some of the paintings.  


His works have been included in thousands of exhibitions and are in the permanent collections of many of the finest art institutions including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Modern, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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