The Life and Work of Willem De Kooning

Willem de Kooning was born on 24th April 1904 in the Netherlands, Rotterdam city. At the age of twelve, Kooning began to train as a commercial artist while attending evening classes at the Rotterdam Academy until 1924. In the advancement of his artistic work, he studied at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in the Brussels and studied Design at the Schelling School of design in Antwerp. As an ambitious and a young artist, he moved to the United States in 1926 where he worked illegally in various places.

He worked as a commercial artist, did window dressing, carpentry, and painting of signs. His mastery of artistic work soon matched him with other artists in the New York City. He met and worked with John Graham, Stuart Davis, and Arshile Gorky, some of whom he shared a studio and learned from each other. With his new colleagues, Kooning worked for the Federal Art Project between the years 1935 and 1939. They made impressive murals and other artistic work for the company contributing a lot to the company’s success.

Kooning was devoted to art and painting as he learned and gained experience from his colleague’.

He started working on his first series of Women art and painting work in 1938. This is the work which later became his major recurrent theme. In the 1940s, Kooning took part in group shows with his fellow artists, to whom they later formed the New York School (Abstract Expressionist). His meeting with other artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline inspired him towards creating the black and white abstract artistic works.

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His experience in art and painting gave him confidence, and in 1948, he held his first solo show at the Egan Gallery, New York. In his show, he exhibited his black and white abstractions.

The main themes of Kooning’s art are the woman (Female figure) and excavation. In the painting of a woman, he showed great artistic skills. In 1940, Kooning made a painting of a seated woman, which became his first major painting of a woman. He used the picture to develop other new pictures and shaped his representation of womankind in a portrait. The seated woman painting made by Kooning was greatly influenced by Gorky. Between 1950 and 1952, Kooning made a famous painting named woman I. He worked on the painting for two years, constantly revising it. The painting depicted the theme of a female figure since the painting was unique. No similar western painting had been done before.

The woman I appeared to be aggressive, erotic, and threatening. Moreover, the woman in the painting was not a typical one as it had frightening teeth and fierce eyes, a characteristic of a cold-war-era housewife. Other woman paintings followed the woman I. Woman II of 1967 was highly abstract but less ferocious. The woman in the painting was eroticized with bright red lips and long hair. The painting was more of an inspiration of the women who appeared on the TV screens in the 1960s2.

Excavation is another theme from Kooning’s work. The painting showed an excavated ground with jagged edges and biomorphic forms. This form of art was used to depict the significant agricultural and farmlands by Kooning. He wanted to show a representation of the part of the soil that is important to man in the artist’s work.

In his artistic work, Kooning used varying methods to have his work look unique. Instead of using the conventional methods of painting pictures to have them appear real, Kooning wanted to have unique pictures that had “no environment”. He made his paintings by constantly painting and revising them aggressively where the canvas ended up with holes punched through by the constant strokes of the brushes. In the painting of woman Kooning applied newspapers on the surface in order to keep the paint workable for as long periods as he could. He also pasted magazine images on the smiles of his paintings, especially in the mouth to make the images look lively.

In his paintings, Kooning first finished painting the background picture and later painted his picture. In this manner, the painting appeared to have been revised severally during the painting since the background and the last paints to be applied are almost distinct from each other. In the painting of a woman, Kooning made black and white background abstraction and later added the colored anatomical elements. The original painting of the background, as black and white, can be distinguished from colored paint where the colored paints mostly appear as heavily build up paints while the black and white appeared as underlying cross-sections.

Moreover, the methods of application of the paints varied from one painting to the other. He manipulated the paints in different consistencies by applying them using a combination of brushes and painting knives used to overwhelm the details of the photo. Notably, the methods of painting used changed progressively from the 1940s to the 1960s as he gained more experience of painting and got to make more appealing paintings.

The materials used in the making of the Abstract Expressionism included the brushes, palette knives, scrapers, commercial paint, charcoal paint, canvas, and other colors. Abstract painting involves the painting of recognizable figures with warped and abstracted brushstrokes. Kooning used the abstract expressionism to make a vivid painting whose figure can be recognized and the evidence of paintings can be seen and even traced.

The patterns of painting can be seen, and at the same time, the real painting can be visualized and recognized. This is also referred to as action painting where all the marks on the painting can be traced and visually unwounded. As an artwork, the painting looks real and appealing to the eyes. Thus, Kooning’s use of abstract was meant to give his paintings a lively impression and depict his mastery of artwork”.

A careful observation of Kooning’s artistic paintings, especially the woman and pink angels, Kooning used the pink color to decorate the paintings. In her writing, Bourn observed that pink color is a color of love, cuteness, romance, charming, feminine, and tenderness. Therefore, Kooning’s use of the pink color to decorate the female figures in his paintings was meant to add a value of love and show how lovely and charming the woman paintings were. 

In conclusion, Kooning played a great role in the creation of Abstract Expressionism by using the art of painting. His passion for painting together with his experience and interaction with great artists were of great importance. Through the use of his knowledge, he created paintings that would remain as landmarks of the abstract painting.

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The Life and Work of Willem De Kooning. (2023, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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