Willem de Kooning. Woman I. 1950–52. Oil and metallic paint on canvas, 6' 3 7/8" x 58" (192.7 x 147.3 cm). Purchase. © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“I never was interested in how to make a good painting…”

Willem de Kooning

If Jackson Pollock was the public face of the New York avant-garde, Willem de Kooning could be described as an artist’s artist, who was perceived by many of his peers as its leader. He was born in Rotterdam, where he grew up in an impoverished household and attended the Rotterdam Academy, training in fine and commercial arts. In 1926, the adventurous young artist stowed away on a ship bound for Argentina. While the ship was docked in Virginia, de Kooning slipped off, skirted immigration, and made his way to New Jersey—and so began the rest of his life.

In New Jersey, de Kooning found work as a house painter. Large brushes and fluid paints were the tools of this trade, ones that he would continue to utilize throughout his artistic career. His dual foundations in drawing and craftsmanship underlay all of his work, even his most abstract paintings.

De Kooning’s next stop was New York, where he forged his artistic career. The Jazz Age was in full swing when he moved to the city, and he quickly fell under the sway of the lyrical freedom of jazz and the abstract art made by other artists under its influence. New York also brought him into contact with the work of Henri Matisse and with contemporaries including John Graham and Arshile Gorky, with whom he developed a particularly close and inspiring friendship.

In 1929, the Great Depression brought the Jazz Age to a crashing end. As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program, in the 1930s de Kooning was commissioned to design public murals; he worked under Fernand Léger, who proved to be an important influence. Though his studies for the murals were never realized, they were among his first abstractions, and the experience of working on this project spurred him to pursue art making full-time.

By the 1940s, de Kooning had gained prominence as an artist. Over the course of a career lasting nearly seven decades, he would work through a wide array of styles, eventually cementing himself as a crucial link from New York School painting to European modernism. Physical labor and countless revisions were constants in his work, which ranged from abstraction to figuration, often merging the two. “I never was interested in how to make a good painting…,” he once said. “I didn’t work on it with the idea of perfection, but to see how far one could go…”1 The female figure was an especially fertile subject for the artist. His paintings of women were among his most controversial works during his lifetime and continue to be debated today.

Karen Kedmey, independent art historian and writer, 2017

  1. John Elderfield, de Kooning: a Retrospective, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2011), 18.

Wikipedia entry
Willem de Kooning (; Dutch: [ˈʋɪləm də ˈkoːnɪŋ]; April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997) was a Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist. Born in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, he moved to the United States in 1926, becoming an American citizen in 1962. In 1943, he married painter Elaine Fried. In the years after World War II, de Kooning painted in a style that came to be referred to as abstract expressionism or "action painting", and was part of a group of artists that came to be known as the New York School. Other painters in this group included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, John Ferren, Nell Blaine, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart. De Kooning's retrospective held at MoMA in 2011–2012 made him one of the best-known artists of the 20th century.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
De Kooning was born in the Netherlands, but active primarily in the United States. He was a leading figure of Abstract Expressionism. His style strongly influenced art after World War II. De Kooning attended the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques and was drawn to Cubism. He moved to the United States in 1926 and worked as a house painter. He was influenced by many avant-garde artists at this time and began to experiment with different painting techniques and processes. He became close friends with Arshile Gorky, whose death in 1948 deeply affected him. He turned to dark and violent paintings, which evolved into an obsession with the human figure. In 1952, de Kooning created the Women series, paintings of the female body in abstract and loosely rendered form.
American, Dutch
Artist, Teacher, Lithographer, Painter, Owner, Sculptor
Willem De Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Willem Dekooning, Willem DeKooning, William de Kooning, willem de kooning
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


86 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Being Modern: Building the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 288 pages
  • de Kooning: A Retrospective Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 504 pages
  • Willem de Kooning Paperback, 48 pages
  • De Kooning: A Retrospective Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 504 pages
  • Abstract Expressionism at The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 128 pages
  • Willem de Kooning Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, pages
  • Willem de Kooning Exhibition catalogue, Clothbound, pages

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