Discipline: Visual artist, painter

Willem de Kooning

Discipline: Visual artist, painter
Region: East Hampton, NY

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1975

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) was a Dutch abstract expressionist artist. He was born in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He moved to the United States in 1926 and became an American citizen in 1962. 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, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart.

In 1926 de Kooning travelled to the United States as a stowaway on the Shelley, a British freighter bound for Argentina, and on August 15 landed at Newport News, Virginia. He stayed at the Dutch Seamen's Home in Hoboken, New Jersey, and found work as a house-painter. In 1927 he moved to Manhattan, where he had a studio on West Forty-fourth Street. He supported himself with jobs in carpentry, house-painting and commercial art.

De Kooning began painting in his free time and in 1928 he joined the art colony at Woodstock, New York. He also began to meet some of the modernist artists active in Manhattan. Among them were the American Stuart Davis, the Armenian Arshile Gorky and the Russian John Graham, whom de Kooning collectively called the "Three Musketeers." He joined the Artists Union in 1934, was employed in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration in 1935, and married his wife and fellow painter Elaine Fried in 1943.

In the late 1950s, de Kooning's work shifted away from the figurative work of the women (though he would return to that subject matter on occasion) and began to display an interest in more abstract, less representational imagery. He became a US citizen on 13 March 1962, and in the following year moved from Broadway to a small house in East Hampton, which Elaine's brother Peter Fried had sold to him two years before. He built a studio nearby and lived in the house to the end of his life.