Willem de Kooning
* 1904 Rotterdam
† 1997 Springs b. East Hampton/N.Y.
The Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam on April 24, 1904. He attends evening classes at the Rotterdam Academy from 1916 to 1924. He goes on study trips to Brussels and Antwerp in 1924/25. He embarks as a blind passenger on a British cargo ship on July 18, 1926, determined to try his luck in the new world. Living in New York as of 1927, he at first makes a living as a commercial artist, sign painter and interior decorator.
Willem de Kooning joints the Artist's Union in 1934 and works as a free-lance artist. His close friendship with the artist Arshile Gorky is quite important to him, as he is the one who always encourages Willem de Kooning in his art, together they rent a studio. The beginnings of his artistic career benefit from the employment-creation measures initiated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the course of the Great depression, as they commission numerous artists with designs for murals and the like. Since de Kooning does not have American citizenship, he has to leave the project in July 1937.
In the same year Willem de Kooning is commissioned to work on a mural in the Hall of Pharmacy which is supposed to become part of the 1939 World Exhibition in New York. This work helps the young artist to call the attention of art critics.
Willem de Kooning meets the art student Elaine Fried in 1937. They marry in 1943, however, in their relationship they face problems such as alcoholism, affairs, quarrels and financial shortages.
Willem de Kooning gets to know the artists Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock in the early 40s, who will soon count among his closest friends and also supports him in his career. Up to ca. 1945 Willem de Kooning's style constantly undergoes changes, his works become more abstract, whereas de Kooning never entirely abandons the object itself. He creates lot of series, such as portraits of women, portraits of standing or seated men and self-portraits as of 1938.
The suicide of his close friend Arshile Gorky in 1943 gets to de Kooning so much that he is unable to work for some time. By aid of Josef Albers, he begins to teach art at the Black Mountain College. In 1950 he takes a post at Yale University. The same year Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning represent the USA at the Venice Biennale, celebrated by art critics such as Clement Greenberg as the most important representatives of American art in the 20th century. It is the combination of "Action Painting" and "Abstract Expressionism", to which main representatives such as Ashile Gorky, Barnett Newmann, Clifford Still and Mark Rothko belong.
Willem de Kooning is given American citizenship in 1962. He dies in Springs/New York on March 19, 1997.