#FlashbackFriday: Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning was one of the most influential painters of the abstract expressionism movement. Born in the Netherlands in 1904, he became interested in art and design at a young age. By 22, de Kooning moved to the United States and began working various commercial art jobs in New York.

“Excavation” – Willem de Kooning

Here, he joined a community of artists and found his inspiration and aesthetic by fusing cubism, surrealism and expressionism.  He was largely inspired by several exhibitions at the MoMA, including “Cubism and Abstract Art,” “Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism” and a Picasso retrospective.  Surrealist artist Salvador Dali was not only an inspiration of de Kooning, but a close friend and muse for one of our featured artists, Martin FriasPeter Keil, whose work can be seen in the gallery as well, also shared De Kooning’s fascination with—and love of—Picasso.

“Dali” – Martin Frias

Peter Keil - Little Jerry 29x18 $3,100

“Little Jerry” – Peter Keil

Willem de Kooning began focusing on his own art (as opposed to commercial painting) in the mid 1930s. He shared a studio with fellow New York artist Roman Chatov. Chatov is another connection allison sprock fine art has to Willem de Kooning. Roman and his brother Constantin escaped Russia in 1922, and lived in New York. Roman and Constantin’s works are featured in the gallery—as well as the paintings of Roman’s son Marc Chatov.

“Grape Picker” – Marc Chatov

De Kooning’s connections with our gallery do not stop here. Salvador Dali does not only link Frias to de Kooning, but Dali also briefly met with Peter Keil to discuss art. Keil’s friendship with Andy Warhol connects him to another iconic artist in the gallery, Hunt Slonem, who was introduced to Warhol when he first moved to New York to pursue art.

“Untitled Bunny” – Hunt Slonem

The first of de Kooning’s works to be recognized and celebrated were his paintings of traditionally posed male figures with distorted bodies and flattened planes. These often looked “dynamically incomplete” as a result of his quick style of action painting, even though he took years reworking each painting. Moving into the 1940s, de Kooning’s works turned towards black and white abstractions—which were the focus of his first solo show in 1948. He did not reintroduce color into his work until 1950. It was in the 1950s that some of his best known (and most controversial works) were shown; paintings of women. De Kooning’s paintings of female figures were controversial for multiple reasons. Some claimed his move from abstraction back to figures was a step backwards, while others were disturbed by the level of distortion and violence in the paintings.

Despite the criticisms, the works were still celebrated, and “Woman I” was purchased by the MoMA shortly after its debut. The success of these paintings made de Kooning a household name, allowing him to lecture at the MoMA and publish his first book “What Abstract Art Means to Me.”  As the years passed, de Kooning returned to colorful abstracts and even began experimenting with sculpture.

One of the most influential leaders of the abstract expressionism movement, Willem de Kooning died in 1997 at the age of 92.  Though his painting “Woman III” sold for $137.5 million in 2006 (making it the fifth most expensive painting ever sold), one doesn’t have to operate under that kind of budget to come by allison sprock fine art to see many artists connected to de Kooning!

“At one time, it was very daring to make a figure red or blue – I think now that it is as daring to make it flesh colored.” –Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning “Woman III”

Willem de Kooning “Untitled VII”

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