WILLEM DE KOONING
WILLEM DE KOONING
A list of reproductions of works by Willem de Kooning,
published in the main body of books and catalogues on De Kooning, including the current
links to images provided by museums and galleries.
Maintained by Kasper Sloots.
You can contact me at:
Codes for the included books and catalogues
Coverage of De Kooning's oeuvre
De Kooning, ca. 1984 (Photo downloaded, source unknown)
Early years (1917-1934).
Reproductions list 1917-1934 (inclu. 1 link)
Willem de Kooning was born in 1904 in Rotterdam, Holland. From 1916 till 1925 he studied at the Rotterdam Academy
of Arts. Little works from these years have survived. The earliest reproductions include
three still lifes: two oil paintings attributed to 1917, and a drawing from 1921 (DW 8). Both are perfectly
executed academic pieces with pots, cups and bowls, showing De Kooning's capacities
for realistic works. Then there's a Male portrait drawing (WM 27) and a Jugendstil like drawing
entitled The kiss (S 82). In the last decades a series of about forty works resurfaced,
about all cartoon drawings, that have been kept by the family where
De Kooning stayed during his visit to Belgium in 1924. They have been reproduced in a dissertation (JW),
of which the illustrations are virtually unobtainable - two examples however are present as MR 51 and SS 52.
De Kooning would seldom return to realism in his art. An exception is for instance the Portrait
of Elaine from 1941. But De Kooning did use his ability for realistic drawing for making commercial signs and
advertisement, which he did as a side job till the forties. Three examples have been reproduced.
One stems from Harper's Bazaar, March 1940 (CP 182), with portraits of little girls. The other two
(S 80/SS 184) show pipe smoking men in advertisements for Model smoking tobacco (1943).
In 1926 De Kooning moved to the USA where he started working as a carpenter and house painter. The next year
he settled in New York. Here he started painting geometric works loosely related to reality, like Untitled
(1928, S 99) and The farmhouse (1932, HG 10). Two paintings are Matisse influenced: Still life
(1927, Y2 1) and another Still life (1929, CP 172 l.). The Untitled painting from 1931 (DW 19) is a
purely abstract geometric painting.
Portraits and abstracts (1935-1950)
Reproductions list 1935-1950 (inclu. 21 links)
During the recession of the thirties the US government started sponsoring projects
for artists. De Kooning was assigned to several projects for painting murals. Still much work
got lost or destroyed be the artist himself, like the drawing that was exhibited at the Museum of Modern
Art in 1936. He
now decided to make being an artist his main business, but kept doing side jobs when necessary. In the murals De Kooning combined figurative
and geometric art. In his paintings he started following two paths simultanuously. The first was
abstract, geometric at first and composed of interwoven lines and fields later on. The other direction stemmed
from portrait painting. In both directions De Kooning's personal style became more explicit. Among
the artist that contributed to De Kooning's stylistic development are Arshile Gorky for the abstracts and Pablo Picasso for
the portraits. It's interesting to see that De Kooning would change styles more often during his career and reach
the same high level in each direction.
In 1948 he agreed to holding his first one man exhibition at the Egan gallery, where recent black and
white abstract paintings with calligrahic lines were shown. Till then De Kooning had preferred group exhibitions.
The purchase by The Chicago museum of Modern Art of the large abstract painting Excavation (1950, HG 34) confirmed
De Kooning's growing reputation.
The portraits show a diversity ranging between faces that are basically realistically painted on abstract backgrounds (like the Portrait of Max
Margulis) and figures and shapes that are becoming more and more distorted through the years, where the expressive strength of the
painting becomes the main issue. This specifically applies to the woman paintings.
Women torsos (1951-1954).
Reproductions list 1951-1954 (inclu. 25 links)
Between 1950 and the first part of 1955 De Kooning spent most of his time
painting and drawing women torsos with their female features exaggerated (large breasts and
hips). Many pencil and pastel drawings were made. On canvas he started working
on Woman I in 1950 and kept changing the image till he was ultimately satisfied in 1952. When
you compare the final result with the in between phases, you can say that the end stage
is indeed the strongest and that De Kooning's habit of analysing and changing is effective.
In 1953 the Woman I-VI series and the pastels were exhibited at the Sydney Janis gallery as
paintings on the theme of women. In these paintings the staight brush strokes are dominant
with much variaty in the use of colours.
The expressive power and audacity of the series had a smashing impact. Specifically the much reproduced Woman I
with her agressive look made De Kooning an international celebrity. In 1983 Two women (1955)
was sold for $ 1.210.000, a record for a living and still productive artist. Today De Kooning's top works
can do ten times as much.
Urban landscapes (1955-1963).
Reproductions list 1955-1963 (inclu. 23 links)
During 1955 De Koonings paintings became abstract again. Woman as a landscape is
often mentioned as a intermediary painting, but you might as well say that the 1955
abstract paintings are derived from the way De Kooning handled his background in
Woman I-VI. The paintings from 1955 and and 1956 are multicoloured. The ones made
between 1957 and 1963 show a reduced colour palette, varying per painting, and broad lines, brought onto the
canvas with big housepainting brushes. Grease on 8th avenue, Montauk highway and Suburb in Havana are for
instance mostly using the colour combination blue, yellow and brown. They all have splash effects,
suggesting that the paint was put on canvas with wild gestures. Some people spoke of such paintings as action painting, but
in the case of the Kooning the action was slow and contemplative. Directly related to these paintings
are the large black and white oil and enemal drawings on paper, that De Kooning made
during his visit of Rome in 1959.
The abstract paintings from this period have been called urban landscapes, because many
titles refer to urban places and infrastructures. In 1961 he made a less known second series
of smaller woman paintings on paper. Because of his fame De Kooning felt less and less at ease
in New York and started spending time on Long Island. In 1962 he himself designed a new large
atelier, that was build in 1963 in East Hampton. In Pastorale and the majestic Rosy-fingered
Dawn at Louse Point from 1963, two of the last works made in Manhattan, he's mainly using the colour combination pink, white and yellow. With these
titles De Kooning is referring to the brightness of the countryside at sunrise.
Human figures (1964-1974).
Reproductions list 1964-1974 (inclu. 60 links)
In 1964 De Kooning moved permanently to his new atelier in East Hampton. Here he
changed his style overnight. Gone were the large straight moves from the urban
landscapes and new were the curly smaller light coloured brush strokes. In fact the straight
lines would never return. Back was the human
figure as subject, mostly women standing or sitting. With virtually no transition paintings, it looks as if De Kooning started anew.
For the body of the figures De Kooning often used a flesh colourod mix of pink and beige.
He became more free in his way of finishing paintings. Apart from larger canvasses as The visit (1967, DW 124) and
Two figures in a landscape (1967, SM2 35), also many smaller sketch like paintings on paper reached the market. He also started working on
imprints of his paintings on newspaper and vellum.
From 1969 onwards, with for instance The sun, the sea, the wind (SM2 36), several abstract
paintings were produced along with the figures. In this year De Kooning for the first
time started working on bronze sculpture. In 1973-4 he took a break from painting and
made some larger sculptures, after which he closed the sculpture cycle.
The North Atlantic light (1975-1980).
Reproductions list 1975-1980 (inclu. 38 links)
In 1975 De Kooning was painting again with new vigour, producing series of
untitled abstract paintings. Stylistically they were a continuation upon the
abstracts made between 1969 and 1972, multicoloured and with curly lines. He now choose
for larger quadrangular canvasses as his standard format. Four
titles refer to the vicinity of the sea in East Hampton, namely Whose name was
writ in water ..., Water, soft banks and a window, Screams of children come from
seagulls and The North Atlantic light. De Kooning's preference for light
colours remained. He himself described the light curly strokes as watery.
1975-1977 were happy years, De Kooning felt like he was painting as if he couldn't
miss. Between 1978 and 1980 he considered the series a finished cycle and painted little.
The canvasses from these three years show him looking for new directions.
By this time his drinking habit reached a maximum and people started fearing
for his life. His wife Elaine, from whom he lived seperately since 1955, was
willing to move in again on condition that he stopped using alcohol, which he did. In 1981
the couple was reunited.
The late paintings (1981-1990).
Reproductions list 1981-1990 (inclu. 48 links)
In 1981 De Kooning's productivity was rising. Again he came with a new stylistic
direction, but he remained abstract. All paintings of the eighties were made on canvasses that were whitened
first. The big gestures on the 1981 paintings were becoming ever more thinner at the end of 1982. Between 1983-86
his style became drawing like, with a preference for primary colours. During these years De Kooning
painted with an unprecedented pace averaging a painting a week. Though he kept
making paintings that are great, the downside of this particular productivity was
that the average quality declined and the paintings were becoming alike.
In 1987 pastel colours were added to the palet and the lines on the paintings were getting
thicker, till in 1988 much of the surface was coloured, reaching a fresh approach.
During the eighties De Kooning's physical and mental health were falling down. What had started
with forgetfullness was diagnozed as Alzheimer's disease in 1989. Unable to handle his
affairs, his daughter Lisa and a lawyer friend were appointed as curators.
De Kooning's declining health has by some critics been used to disregard his late paintings
from a certain date onwards before 1989, which I find presumptuous. When you look at Garden in Delft (1987) or
No title (1988, GH 9) and knew nothing about De Kooning's health, would you then by yourself
conclude that he had lost contact?
De Kooning still painted in 1989 en 1990. According to critics and artists who have
been invited to take a view, the paintings from these years can't be considered completed. Robert Storr in the The late paintings, page 58, describes De Kooning's last
attempts to paint, providing an argument why the De Kooning Trust thus far hasn't
published this work. One painting in progress from 1989 has been reproduced in Reflections in the
studio by E. Lieber. All you can say about the photos is that this is a painting in an unfinished
sketch like stadium, it certainly doesn't look dumb. It seems to me that De Kooning's art
just faded out. He spent the remaining time idlely in his studio, being nursed till his death