Willem De Kooning
Life and Times
Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam in Holland. When he was 5 years old, his parents divorced. From then on, De Kooning was raised by his mother and stepfather. From a young age De Kooning showed a keen interest in painting, and when he was a teenager his parents arranged for him to attend the Rotterdam Fine Arts Academy, where he studied for over 7 years.
At the age of 22, De Kooning stowed away on a ship bound to the US, settling first in New Jersey. After 3 years of working as a house painter and decorator, he had earnt enough to establish a small studio in Manhattan.
To weather the depression, De Kooning joined the Federal Works of Art Program (another famous artist on the program was Grant Wood). Throughout the remainder of the 1930s De Kooning’s paintings became more and more abstract, with line and color replacing closely observed detail, for example Pink Angels (1945).
In 1943 De Kooning married Elaine Marie Fried, a talented artist in her own right. His artwork continued to mature and evolve. In the late 1940s the loose New York school of abstract artists began to attract the attention of the wider art world. De Kooning became seen as a leading member of the ‘Abstract Expressionists’. Soon the New York school was mooted as having ‘triumphed’ over the School of Paris, which had ruled the art world for over a century. One can imagine that his application for American citizenship, made in 1962, was very happily stamped by the US immigration officials.
Later in his life De Kooning developed Alzheimer’s. But he managed to continue painting – his later works are simpler, but still highly engaging of the viewer.
De Kooning’s works fetch amazing prices at auction. In 2006 his Woman III sold for $147 million.