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Willem de Kooning

Dutch-American  •  1904-1997

Biography

Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and moved to the United States in his early 20s, arriving in Manhattan by 1927. A founding member of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, de Kooning was a contemporary of painters Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and of course his wife, Elaine de Kooning. 

Known for having stated “flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented,” de Kooning’s work often evokes the human body--even as some of his contemporaries moved towards pure abstraction. Like the other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning was a proponent of “Action Painting,” which emphasized the physical aspect of their work, eschewing the idea that painting was necessarily a careful, precise art form. By the 1960s, the artist was living and working out of his farmhouse on Long Island, and he managed to breathe new life into his work after decades in an urban environment. Though he was no longer a public figure at that time, the resultant body of works that he produced from 1975 through 1977 are among his most renowned, both critically and in the marketplace – his auction records since 2006 have been works from this period. Following a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s, the artist made his last work in 1991 and passed away in 1997.

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