MoMA

THE COLLECTION

8,833 Artists and 53,455 Works Online

Choose your search filter(s) from the categories on the right, and then click Search.

You may select multiple filters.

Browse Artist Index »

Browse Art Terms Index »

White Gray Black

Search Results

Showing 1 of 1
On view  |  Painting and Sculpture II, Gallery 16, Floor 4

Willem de Kooning. Woman, I. 1950-52

Flesh and Paint

“Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” Willem de Kooning once stated, and true to this proposition, with Woman, I he returned to the figure after painting abstractly for many years...

“Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” Willem de Kooning once stated, and true to this proposition, with Woman, I he returned to the figure after painting abstractly for many years. Rendered with broad, expressive brushstrokes and densely layered color, de Kooning’s Woman, I is wild-eyed and menacing. In this work, the artist’s medium and subject matter converge in a disturbing vision of aggressive femininity.

Action Painting over Time

Although the painting appears direct and spontaneous, de Kooning worked on Woman, I for over a year and a half, during which he interspersed vigorous painting sessions with long periods of looking and thinking...

Although the painting appears direct and spontaneous, de Kooning worked on Woman, I for over a year and a half, during which he interspersed vigorous painting sessions with long periods of looking and thinking. Over months, he applied paint to the canvas and scraped it away. At a point, he even discarded the unfinished painting for several weeks before eventually retrieving it and returning to work.

Woman, I offers an almost encyclopedic display of the physical possibilities of paint. De Kooning’s handling is alternately thick and thin, rough and slick, opaque and translucent. Arcs of fluid paint mingle with coarse bursts of color, as thick smears alternate with stains and drips faintly running down the canvas. As he worked, de Kooning prepared massive quantities of paint in kitchen bowls and constantly changed their properties by adding medium, solvent, water, or even eggs. These additions often kept the paints wet and fluid and allowed him flexibility in reworking his compositions over long periods of time. As a result, the process of painting is visible in the final work.

Surface Tensions

“I like a nice, juicy, greasy surface,” de Kooning noted, and in Woman, I he privileges surface over illusionistic depth. Despite the figure’s obvious heft, she appears flattened out, as if pressed up against the surface of the painting...

“I like a nice, juicy, greasy surface,” de Kooning noted, and in Woman, I he privileges surface over illusionistic depth. Despite the figure’s obvious heft, she appears flattened out, as if pressed up against the surface of the painting. Her massive arms, head, breasts, and legs have been forced into the shallow space of the composition, and through this presentation, de Kooning suggests once again an affinity between the painted surface and a woman’s flesh.

Action Painting

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting in 1952, writing that "at a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act...

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting in 1952, writing that "at a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or 'express' an object.... What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event."

Specifically, the term describes the work of artists who painted with gestures that involved more than just the traditional use of the fingers and wrist to paint, including also the arm, shoulder, and even legs. Often the viewer can see broad brushstrokes or other evidence of the physical action that took place before the canvas, and in many of these works of art the kinetic energy that went into the making of the painting remains vivid.

Although "action painting" became to some degree synonymous with Abstract Expressionism, it didn't apply to all of those artists. For example, Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman left little or no trace of the artist's touch. On the other hand, the works of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline exemplify action painting.

Allover Painting

Allover painting refers to a canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance...

Allover painting refers to a canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance. This is a radically different approach from modes of painting that offer specific focal points, such as the sitter's face in the case of a portrait. With an allover composition, our eyes are invited to wander the canvas from the top to the bottom, following lines, shapes, and colors.

Emulsion

An emulsion is a combination of two or more liquids that do not blend easily on their own, such as oil and water...

An emulsion is a combination of two or more liquids that do not blend easily on their own, such as oil and water. A common example of an emulsion is a vinaigrette salad dressing, in which you might use egg yolk to keep the vinegar and olive oil from separating. Similarly, painters can use egg yolk to emulsify oil paint and water.

Enamel Paints

Enamel paints are household and automobile paints that are formulated to be very fluid. They are typically opaque and rich in pigment, since they are designed to cover a surface in a single coat of paint...

Enamel paints are household and automobile paints that are formulated to be very fluid. They are typically opaque and rich in pigment, since they are designed to cover a surface in a single coat of paint. Enamels can use an array of different binders that include alkyd (a modified linseed oil), acrylic, latex, and oil. Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were among the first to regularly use enamel paints in making works of art.

New York School

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists...

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists who lived in New York in the mid-twentieth century, and who made art in the Abstract Expressionist style. The New York School artists established a meeting place in New York's Greenwich Village, The Club, which became a hub of Abstract Expressionist debates and activities from 1949 to around 1960.

In addition to describing visual artists, the term "New York School" has also been applied to a group of poets that included Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, and a group of composers that included John Cage and Morton Feldman. Less directly, it can refer to many dancers, choreographers, prose writers, and jazz musicians. Many of the key figures in each of these circles formed close personal and aesthetic relationships, collaborating and sharing creative influences across different mediums.

Paint

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced...

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced. Binder holds the individual grains of pigment together. In oil paint, the most common binder is linseed oil, which typically dries to the touch in about one week. The binder in most acrylic paint is an acrylic resin; the binder in watercolor paint is a natural resin called gum arabic. Solvent is a liquid that thins the paint. The most common solvent in oil painting is turpentine. Water is the solvent for acrylic emulsion and watercolor paints.

Palette Knife

A palette knife is a type of spatula typically used to mix paint on the palette...

A palette knife is a type of spatula typically used to mix paint on the palette. It can also be used to apply paint directly on the canvas and to remove it from the canvas.

Scale

By the end of the 1940s, most of the Abstract Expressionist painters were working on canvases that were taller and/or wider than a human being, that is, on a large scale...

By the end of the 1940s, most of the Abstract Expressionist painters were working on canvases that were taller and/or wider than a human being, that is, on a large scale. Large-scale Abstract Expressionist paintings envelop the viewer and saturate his or her field of vision. Besides radically changing the relationship between viewer and painting, large-scale Abstract Expressionist canvases served as literal announcements of the grandeur of their makers' ambitions.

Murals had been created for centuries, but such historically grand-scale works were designed to tell a story, using recognizable figures. Rather than telling a particular narrative, the large-scale canvases of Abstract Expressionism often vibrate with creative energy and trigger feelings, emotions, or sensations in those viewing them.

Stain

A stain is a thinned paint made with a considerable amount of solvent...

A stain is a thinned paint made with a considerable amount of solvent. Stains are absorbed into the canvas, rather than remaining on its surface.

The Irascibles

The Irascibles is the label given to a group of Abstract Expressionist artists who wrote an open letter to the president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art...

The Irascibles is the label given to a group of Abstract Expressionist artists who wrote an open letter to the president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, protesting the museum's exhibition American Painting Today 1950. The exhibition included no examples of Abstract Expressionist painting, and the group believed that the show's curators promoted only the most conservative kind of American painting and were "hostile to advanced art." In 1951, fourteen of the artists were assembled for a now iconic photograph, published by Life magazine in an article called "Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show."

Tint, Shade and Tone

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black...

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black, and a tone is a color plus gray.

Turpentine Burn

A turpentine burn is made by soaking a rag in solvent and scrubbing the canvas directly...

A turpentine burn is made by soaking a rag in solvent and scrubbing the canvas directly. This technique removes paint and leaves a stain on the canvas.

Viscosity

Viscosity is the thickness of a liquid. Low-viscosity liquids are very fluid (such as water) while high-viscosity liquids are quite thick (such as molasses)...

Viscosity is the thickness of a liquid. Low-viscosity liquids are very fluid (such as water) while high-viscosity liquids are quite thick (such as molasses). The viscosity of oil paints is usually reduced by adding binder (such as linseed oil) and/or solvent (such as turpentine). At a lower viscosity, paint can be brushed onto the canvas more freely and quickly.

flash
Add to My Collection

Willem de Kooning (American, born the Netherlands. 1904–1997)

Woman, I

Date:
1950-52
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
6' 3 7/8" x 58" (192.7 x 147.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase
MoMA Number:
478.1953
Copyright:
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

, 2008

Curator, Ann Temkin: This painting is called Woman, I and it has the number after it because ultimately there were six such large-scale paintings of single women that de Kooning worked on in the 1950s.

The woman of the painting is staring out at the viewer with a kind of ferocity and a kind of toothy glare that makes her anything but a typical seductress or muse that one might think of in terms of the hundreds of years of paintings of female subjects. This is a painting that he began after having worked in an abstract mode over the last few years. And having received very wonderful critical acclaim for the abstract paintings he made. He had, however, been painting the figure—and particularly the female figure—in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and at this time he decided to go back to it.

And so de Kooning's big challenge was how to use the power of paint to again give some meaning to creating the image of a human figure on a canvas. And if what you see on the canvas before you has the feel or the look of something like a battlefield, there's a good reason, because indeed, this is a picture that de Kooning struggled and struggled with.

He worked for months and months over a year-and-a-half, making, paintings, one on top of the other, scratching them, sanding them down, getting rid of the image that he had worked on the day before. The look of it is very much of something in progress, something that has not come to some kind of comfortable resolution or conclusion, but something which is still in a bit of a state of war.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999

Woman, I is the first in a series of de Kooning works on the theme of Woman. The group is influenced by images ranging from Paleolithic fertility fetishes to American billboards, and the attributes of this particular figure seem to range from the vengeful power of the goddess to the hollow seductiveness of the calendar pinup. Reversing traditional female representations, which he summarized as "the idol, the Venus, the nude," de Kooning paints a woman with gigantic eyes, massive breasts, and a toothy grin. Her body is outlined in thick and thin black lines, which continue in loops and streaks and drips, taking on an independent life of their own. Abrupt, angular strokes of orange, blue, yellow, and green pile up in multiple directions as layers of color are applied, scraped away, and restored.

When de Kooning painted Woman, I, artists and critics championing abstraction had declared the human figure obsolete in painting. Instead of abandoning the figure, however, de Kooning readdressed this age-old subject through the sweeping brushwork of Abstract Expressionism, the prevailing contemporary style. Does the woman partake of the brushwork's energy to confront us aggressively? Or is she herself under attack, nearly obliterated by the welter of violent marks? Perhaps something of both; and, in either case, she remains powerful and intimidating.

Share by E-mail
Share by Text Message