Willem de Kooning American, born The Netherlands

Not on view

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.

#1834. Attic



  1. 1834. Attic
  2. 2100. Attic
Attic, Willem de Kooning (American (born The Netherlands), Rotterdam 1904–1997 East Hampton, New York), Oil, enamel, and newspaper transfer on canvas

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