Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning
24.04.1904 (Rotterdam) - 19.03.1997 (Long Island)

Nationality: Dutch


Despite the fact that Willem de Kooning never considered himself as being part of a specific art movement ("It is disastrous to name ourselves"), this Dutch-American artist is seen by the great audience as one of the main figures in American Abstract-Expressionism, which flourished after World War II. Born in the Dutch harbour city of Rotterdam, De Kooning was an apprentice at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques for eight years, nowadays known as the Willem de Kooning Academy. In 1926, 22 years of age, he moved to the United States.

In New York, in 1938, he meets his future wife Elaine Marie Fried, who was to become a significant artist as well. De Kooning and thirty-seven other artists were chosen from a general invitation to New York City metropolitan artists to design and paint the 105 public murals at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which was a great honour. In 1948, De Kooning had first one-man show, which took place at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York. On show were black-and-white enamel compositions. During his career, De Kooning’s subject matter consists mainly of complex figures, male and female series featuring abstractions and biomorphic shapes, often energetically – sometimes even violently - put onto the medium.

When visiting their friends Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and his wife Lee Krasner (1908-1984), who had a house in East Hampton (New York), Willem de Kooning and his wife fell in love with this area. In 1963 they permanently moved there. According to Elaine, “the land, so near the water, and the quality of the light reminded him of his native Holland”.

Willem de Kooning is an international acclaimed artist. In November 2006, one of his pieces was sold for USD 137.5 million, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold at that time. In September 2011, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York honoured De Kooning with a large-scale retrospective exhibition, showing nearly 200 works by his hand.


Fémininmasculin. Le sexe de l'art (Paris 1995) (NFM);
J. Zilczer, 'Artist and patron: the formation of the Hirshhorn Museum's Willem de Kooning collection', Journal of the History of Collections 8 (1996), p. 103-116;
R. Sigrist, 'Jasper Johns:''Flag'', 1954-55', Georges-Bloch-Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischen Instituts der Universität Zürich (2001), p.204-223;
D. Anfam, 'De Kooning, Bosch and Bruegel some fundamental themes', The Burlington Magazine 145 (2003), p. 705-715;
G. Vreeburg, ' ''Beste Vader'' en ''Dear Vader''. Twee brieven van Willem de Kooning aan zijn vader', Jong Holland 20 (2004) nr. 1, p. 24-27;
R. Schenk, 'De langzame Nederlandse doorbraak van Willem de Kooning', Jong Holland 20(2004) nr. 1, p. 28-36;
R. Schenk, E. de Wilde, 'Willem de Kooning in het Stedelijk', in: Stedelijk Museum Bulletin, nr. 2/3, 2004, p. 50-55;
M. Stevens, A. Swan, De Kooning: An American Master, New York 2004;
V. Bertrand, 'Willem de Kooning, l'art jusqu'á l'excès', Connaissance des Arts, 630 (september 2005), p. 76-81 NFM, Fotodoc. 07/05/2005 (NFM);
V. Katz, 'Essay Erasure II : ' A gentel iconoclasm. Robert Rauschenberg was fascinated by Willem de Kooning', Tate Etc. 8 (Autumn 2006), p. 38-41.


"Willem de Kooning: Late Paintings", the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2006 and traveled to the Museo Carlo Bilotti, Rome;
Amerikaanse schilderijen Collages, Groningen (Museum voor Stad en Lande) 5/11 tot 11/12-1966;
Fémininmasculin. Le sexe de l'art (Parijs 1995) (NFM);
Charles Egan Gallery, New York, 1948;
Museum of Modern Art, 1968, 2011–12;
The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983;
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994;
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1974;
The C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, 1982 and 1987;


Museum of Modern Art in New York City;
Guggenheim Museum in New York City;
National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.;
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.  

more about Willem de Kooning

Artist's locations

view work by Willem de Kooning


Related artists