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Willem de Kooning (American (born The Netherlands), Rotterdam 1904–1997 East Hampton, New York)

Oil, enamel, and newspaper transfer on canvas
61 7/8 x 81in. (157.2 x 205.7cm) 62 5/8 x 81 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (159.1 x 207.6 x 6.4 cm) (Frame)
Credit Line:
The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection, Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, in honor of her son, Glenn David Steinberg, 1982
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    Born in Rotterdam, Holland, Willem de Kooning left school at sixteen and apprenticed with a firm of commercial artists and decorators. In 1926, he moved to New York, where his first job was as a house painter. Sharing a studio with the artist Arshile Gorky, de Kooning immersed himself in the New York art scene. He quickly developed a highly individual style that is characterized by his "allover" approach to the composition and his thick, energetic application of paint. In his refusal to completely abandon representation—as witnessed by his extended series of Women and, later, Clam Diggers—de Kooning always veered from the mainstream of Abstract Expressionism, although he was a leader of that movement along with Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

    Between 1946 and 1949, de Kooning produced a series of highly abstract black-and-white-paintings that culminated in "Attic," in which angular, thrusting forms collide with organic, curvilinear ones to yield a high-pitched, expressive picture. The dense web of white shapes and black lines makes it difficult to sort out relationships between form and space, though it is still possible to determine a figural basis for the scene. Stretched across the canvas are biomorphic symbols and shapes that allude to the curves and forms of human anatomy.

    De Kooning's palette of black and white, with touches of red and yellow, was determined in part by the availability of inexpensive commercial enamel paint. Although restricted in his use of color, de Kooning displays virtuosity in his sensuous, expressive handling of paint, surface, and line. His gestural brushwork and dynamic allover composition exemplify the new visual language adopted by the Abstract Expressionist painters. De Kooning routinely made revisions on his canvases, and "Attic" was exhibited at two different stages of completion. To accelerate the drying time of the paint, he blotted sheets of newspaper over the wet canvas, and the surface bears evidence of transferred newsprint. Immediately following "Attic," de Kooning reintroduced full color into his work, already hinted at here in the touches of red and yellow, and he soon returned to the figurative imagery for which he is best known.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Signed (lower left): de Kooning

  • Provenance

    Charles Egan Gallery, New York, on consignment, by 1950; Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, acquired from the artist, by February 1952 (inventory no. 3343); Mr. and Mrs. Jay Z. Steinberg, Chicago, purchased from Janis, February 9, 1952 - gift of Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982

  • Exhibition History

    Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, December 16, 1949-February 5, 1950, exh. cat., no. 23.

    American Painting 1950, Biennial exhibition of contemporary American paintings, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, April 22-June 4, 1950, exh. cat. by James Johnson Sweeney, n.p., unnumbered cat checklist (as The Attic, 1949, oil on canvas, 60 x 80 in., lent by Egan Gallery, New York).

    5th Anniversary Exhibition, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, September 29 - October 31, 1953, exh. cat., no. 57, ill.

    2 pittori, 3 scultori, United States Pavilion, XXVII Biennale, Venice, June 19-October 17, 1954, exhibition organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exh. cat. by Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, p. [34], no. 12 (ill.).

    The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, May 11-August 7, 1955 [not shown at other venues], exh. cat. by John I.H. Baur, ed., with Rosalind Irvine, unnumbered checklist, p. 92.

    Likely in: The Struggle for New Form, World House Galleries, New York, January 22-February 23, 1957 (hors catalogue).

    Willem de Kooning, organized by the International Program at The Museum of Modern Art, organized by Thomas B. Hess, shown at five venues, and with the following catalogues:
    Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, September 19-November 17, 1968 (cat in Dutch published by Stedelijk Museum, n.p., ill. no. 35;
    Tate Gallery, London, December 5, 1968-January 26, 1969 (cat published by MoMA for the Arts Council of Great Britain, no. 38, pp. 51, 65 (ill.), 73, 75, 76, 77 (ill., dtl), 142;
    MoMA, NY, 1968, served for the following venues: Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 6-April 27, 1969; Art Institute of Chicago, May 17-July 6, 1969; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 29-September 14, 1969, no. 38, pp. 47, 51, 64, 65 (ill.), 73, 75, 76, 77 (ill., dtl), 123, 162.

    An American Choice: The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 21-September 27, 1981, exh. cat. edited by William S. Lieberman, pp. 15, 58, 59 (ill.), 153.

    Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture - New York, Berlin, Paris, published in conjunction with two exhibitions held at the Whitney Museum of American Art: "The Drawings of Willem de Kooning," December 7, 1983-February 19, 1984, and "Willem de Kooning: Retrospective Exhibition," December 15, 1983-February 26, 1984 [exhibited in NY only], exh. cat. by Paul Cummings, Jörn Merkert, Claire Stoullig (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in association with Prestel Verlag Munich, and W.W. Norton & Co., New York-London, 1983), no. 170, pp. 115 (essay by Merkert), 167 (ill.).

    "Willem de Kooning: The Early Years," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March-August, 1989, exh. organized by William S. Lieberman (no catalogue).

    Willem de Kooning: Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., May 8-September 5, 1994; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 6, 1994-January 5, 1995; Tate Gallery, London, February 15-May 7, 1995, exh. cat. by David Sylvester, Richard Shiff, with Marla Prather, text by Prather pp. 93, 99, 100, 105 (n. 54), 118 (ill. pl. 19).

    Abstract Expressionism and Other Modern Works: The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 18, 2007 - February 3, 2008, exh. cat. edited by Gary Tinterow, Lisa Mintz Messinger, and Nan Rosenthal, no. 25, pp. 5, 75-77 (ill.), 78, 79, 80, 143 (essay by Richard Shiff).

    Museum of Modern Art, New York. "de Kooning: A Retrospective," September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012, no. 67.

  • References

    Thomas B. Hess, "8 excellent, 20 good, 133 others" (review of Whitney Annual 1949-50), Art News, vol. 48, no. 9, January 1950, p. 34 (ill.).

    Howard Devree, "American Roundup: Four Group Shows of Contemporary Art," New York Times, April 30, 1950, p. X8 (ill.).

    Louis Finkelstein, "Marin and de Kooning," Magazine of Art, vol. 43, no. 6 (October 1950), p. 206 (ill.).

    Thomas B. Hess, "Introduction to Abstract," Art News Annual XX, vol. 49, no. 7 (November 1950), p. 157 (ill.).

    Louis Finkelstein, "New Look: Abstract-Impressionism," Art News, vol. 55, no. 1 (March 1956), p. 66.

    Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning (New York: George Braziller, 1959), ill. no. 106 (as Attic, 1949, coll. Mrs. Albert Newman), pp. 21, 24.

    Harriet Janis, and Rudi Blesh, De Kooning (New York: Grove Press, 1960), pp. 10, 30, ill. pl. 9.

    Eleanor Page, "She Lives in an Art Museum," Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1964, section 3, p. 3 (ill.).

    Thomas B. Hess, De Kooning: Recent Paintings (New York: Walker & Co., in association with M. Knoedler & Co., 1967), catalogue of an exhibition held at M. Knoedler & Co., New York, November 14-December 2, 1967, p. 17.

    Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), pp. 128, 130 (ill. pl. 9-11).

    Gabriella Drudi, Willem de Kooning (Milan: Fratelli Fabbri Editori, 1972), pp. 33, 56 (ill.).

    Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning: Drawings (Greenwich, Conn.: A Paul Bianchini Book, New York Graphic Society, 1972), p. 33.

    Sam Hunter, American Art of the 20th Century: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973), p. 245 (and related work ill. p. 221).

    Harold Rosenberg, De Kooning (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973), no. 74, pp. 8, 30 (ill.).

    E.A. Carmean, Jr., and Eliza E. Rathborne, with Thomas B. Hess, American Art at Mid Century: The Subjects of the Artist (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1978), p. 167 (essay by Carmean titled "Willem de Kooning: The Women").

    Diane Waldman, Willem de Kooning in East Hampton exh cat (New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1978), p. 15.

    Judith Goldman, "Collecting in Chicago: Love Affairs with Art," Artnews, vol. 78, no. 2, February 1979, p. 49 (ill., photo showing Mrs. Newman sitting in front of Attic).

    Alice Hess, "Great Private Collections: A Chicago Visionary," Saturday Review, vol. 7, no. 14, October 1980, pp. 3, 72-75 (ills.)

    Grace Glueck, "Met is Given a $12 Million Art Collection," New York Times, December 10, 1980, p. 21 (ill.).

    Anonymous, "Chicagoan Gives Art to N.Y. Museum," Chicago Sun-Times, December 11, 1980, p. 8.

    Hilton Kramer, "Modernist Show Moves Met Firmly into Art of 20th Century," New York Times, May 22, 1981, pp. C1, C21.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art Calendar/News, flyer, announcement of the exhibition "An American Choice: The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection," May 21-September 27, 1981, ill.

    Grace Glueck, "Is Chicago Losing Out in The Art War?," New York Times, August 2, 1981, Arts and Leisure section, section 2, p. 1.

    Anonymous, "Newman at the Met," Connaissance des Arts (US ed.), no. 17, June 1981, p. 28.

    Diana Loercher-Pazicky, "The Newman Bequest," Connaissance des Arts (U.S. ed.), no. 19, August 1981, pp. 16-17.

    Franz Schulze, "Art: Newman Collection Gets Lavish Attention from Met," Sunday Sun-Times [Chicago Sun-Times], August 9, 1981.

    Lisa M. Messinger, "The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection: A Promised Gift," Notable Acquisitions 1980 - 1981 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981), p. 62 (ill.).

    Grace Glueck, "Met acquires Early Pollock," New York Times, January 13, 1982, p. C19."

    Kathleen Howard, ed., The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983), p. 421, no. 23 (ill.).

    Harry F. Gaugh, Willem de Kooning (New York : Abbeville Press, 1983), pp. 31 (ill. dtl.), 32-33 (ill. pl. 26), 36.

    Grace Glueck, "De Kooning Retrospective of 60 Years at Whitney" (review of Whitney exh.), New York Times, Friday December 16, 1983, p. 15.

    William C. Seitz, Abstract Expressionist Painting in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Published for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, by Harvard University Press, 1983), originally presented as the author's doctoral dissertation, Princeton, 1955, ill. fig. 23.

    Jörn Merkert, "Stillosigkeit als Prinzip Zur Malerei von Wilem de Kooning," in: Willem de Kooning Retrospektive: Zeichnungen, Gemälde, Skulpturen, exh cat (first venue of Whitney 1983-84), Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, March 11-May 6, 1984 (Munich: Prestel Verlag and Akademie der Künste Berlin, 1984), pp. 115, 121, 123 (referred to as fig. 170), 167 (ill. pl. 170).

    Thomas B. Hess, "Dessins," in: Willem de Kooning, exh cat (second venue of Whitney 1983-84), Musée National d'art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, June 26-September 24, 1984, pp. 40, 81 (ill.).

    [Henry Hanson?], "Upfront: Up's Column," Chicago Magazine, April 1984, p. 14.

    William Agee, "Muriel Kallis Newman: Life Among the Moderns," Architectural Digest, December 1986, p. 70.

    William S. Lieberman, Lisa Mintz Messinger, Sabine Rewald, and Lowery Sims, 20th Centuy Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, vol. 2: Painting, 1945-1985 (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), pp. 20 (ill.; essay by Lisa M. Messinger), 21 (color detail), 63.

    Eugene Victor Thaw, "The Abstract Expressionists," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 44, no. 3, Winter 1986/87, pp. 25, 26-27 (ill.), no. 19.

    Janet Hobhouse, The Bride Stripped Bare: The Artist and the Nude in the Twentieth Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 1988), pp. 237 (ill. pl. 211), 238.

    Paul Schimmel and Judith Stein, The Figurative Fifties: New York Figurative Expressionism, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, California, July 19-September 18, 1988, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, October 12-December 31, 1988, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, February 15-April 30, 1989, pp. 53 (essay by Paul Schimmel, "The Women"), 55 (ill.).

    Hilton Kramer, "Though Exhibiting it badly, Met offers a worthy de Kooning show" (review of exh. "Willem de Kooning: The Early Years" at the MMA), New York Observer, August 28, 1989, p. 19

    Lisa Mintz Messinger, Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper, Selections form The Metropolitan Museum of Art exh cat (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), pp. 24, 30 (n. 7).

    Lee Hall, Elaine & Bill: Portrait of a Marriage. The Lives of Willem and Elaine de Kooning (New York: Cooper Square Press, 1993), p. 133.

    David Anfam, Franz Kline: Black and White, 1950-1961 exh cat (Houston: The Menil Collection and Houston Fine Art Press, 1994), p. 11.

    Michael Kimmelman, "Art View: America's Living Old Master" (review of NGA 1994), New York Times, May 15, 1994, p. H41.

    Stephen Polcari, "Willem de Kooning, Washington, National Gallery" (review of NGA 1994), Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, no. 1098 (September 1994), p. 644.

    David Sylvester, "The Birth of Woman I," Burlington Magazine, vol. 137, no. 1105 (April 1995), pp. 225-229.

    Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900 - 1950 exh cat (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W.W. Norton, 1999), p. 366 (ill. fig. 699).

    Robert Rosenblum, "American Painting since the Second World War," in: On Modern American Art: Selected Essays by Robert Rosenblum (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999), p. 66 (ill. fig. 36), 367. First published as "La Peinture américaine depuis la seconde guerre mondiale," Aujourd'hui: Art et Architecture, vol. 3, no. 18, July 1958.

    Takashi Murakami : summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?, Catalog of an exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, August 25-November 4, 2001, pp. 69 (essay by Michael Darling, "Past+Present=Future"), 70 (fig. 13).

    Willem de Kooning, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern [IVAM], Valencia, November 6-December 2, 2001; Fundacion La Caixa, Madrid, December 20, 2001-March 25, 2002, exh. cat., p. 12 (ill.).

    Modern Art: Collection Highlights on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website (www.metmuseum.org) since 2003.

    Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, De Kooning: An American Master (New York : A.A. Knopf, 2004), pp. 293-297.

    Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone : Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 66 (ill. fig. 2.2).

    Michael Fitzgerald, with a chronology by Julia May Boddewyn, Picasso and American Art, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, September 28, 2006 - January 28, 2007; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California, February 25 - May 28, 2007; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, June 17 - September 9, 2007, ill. p. 220, fig. 87 (ill. in black and white)

  • See also