In June of 1950, shortly after de Kooning had completed Excavation, he decided to embark on another major effort and began Woman I. Completed two and a half years later, this canvas marked the most important artistic change of his career, introducing a far more painterly and improvisational approach.
After working on Woman I for an extended period, de Kooning began three other, related canvases—two of which would be finished before Woman I was—and then two more. When all six were first exhibited, in the spring of 1953, they created a sensation for their ferocious intensity. The paintings de Kooning made in the years that followed further conflated subject and field, which led to intense abstractions that alluded both to close-up details of the female figure and to features of the urban landscape.