Willem de Kooning (American, born the Netherlands, 1904–1997)
Oil and enamel on paper, mounted on wood
29 7/8 x 40 1/4 in. (75.9 x 102.2 cm)
From the Collection of Thomas B. Hess, Gift of the heirs of Thomas B. Hess, 1984 (1984.613.7)
© 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning was a masterful and prolific draftsman throughout his seven-decade-long career. His first known drawings were realistic still lifes, done in about 1921, while he was a young art student in Rotterdam. Following his arrival in the United States (in 1926), he supported himself as a house painter, then moved to New York City (in 1927), where he soon became friends with other ascendant artists, including John Graham, Stuart Davis, David Smith, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. The gestural style of painting and the visual vocabulary of forms that he began to develop at this time continued to inform his later work. From the late 1930s through the '50s, his biomorphic abstractions (which allude to figures and landscapes) and his figurative series Woman (see 1984.613.6) placed him at the center of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Between 1946 and 1949, de Kooning created a series of paintings on canvas and paper that explored biomorphic abstraction with a restricted palette of mostly black and white. Black Untitled of 1948 is a prime example of the allover compositions he produced that cohesively integrate positive and negative spaces, without representational allusions. Like his friend Franz Kline, de Kooning used both black and white paint, rather than letting the white of the paper show through. Sweeping white rivers of paint rush across the dark black ground, creating writhing intertwining shapes that suggest figures in a landscape setting, but without any specificity whatsoever.