Art History Lab

Exploring the Evolution of Willem de Kooning’s Groundbreaking Abstract Expressionism

Willem de Kooning’s groundbreaking works of Abstract Expressionism are what established him as one of America’s leading artists of the 20th century. His unconventional style and striking compositions challenged conventional art-making techniques and made him a celebrated figure in the art world.

In this article, we will delve into the life, artistic development, and evolution of the techniques and themes of Willem de Kooning.

Early Life and Training

Willem de Kooning was born in 1904 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He grew up in a working-class family and worked in commercial design firms from an early age.

It is during this time that he began to develop an interest in art and began an internship under painter Jan Bronner. It was at this point that he began his journey into the art world.

Move to America and Artistic Development

In 1926, de Kooning made a move to America and eventually settled in New York in 1927. It was during this period that he worked on several public art projects for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

However, his first significant break as an artist came in 1939, where he exhibited his works in New Horizons in American Art, curated by the Museum of Modern Art. De Kooning’s signature style emerged in the 1940s.

He focused on abstract compositions that showcased his intense use of color and gestural brushwork. His paintings largely reflected his interpretation of the great stylistic movements of that time, such as Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism.

Influence and Style

De Kooning’s style was deeply influenced by his surroundings and personal life. He found inspiration in the bustle and energy of New York City, the people he encountered, and the contemporary issues that mattered.

According to art critic Harold Rosenberg, de Kooning’s approach to art-making was to create “an active incompletion,” where the absence of recognizable forms creates an immediate impact.

Evolving Techniques and Themes

De Kooning’s techniques and themes evolved throughout his career. Early on, he focused primarily on abstract compositions.

In the late 1940s, he began to incorporate the human figure into his work, leading to his famous Women series, which was controversial for the exaggerated and distorted female body parts it depicted. He was also known for his still life and landscapes in the 1950s, in which he experimented with color fields and abstract forms.

In the 1960s, de Kooning produced figurative works that showcased his skillful use of brushstrokes and color. These works included several series of large-scale paintings, including the Door cycle, the Skeleton Paintings and the Urbana series.


In conclusion, Willem de Kooning’s life and art were an excellent representation of the evolution of the arts in the twentieth century. His paintings reflected the current trends, and he continuously experimented with new techniques and themes to showcase the power of contemporary art-making.

His works are still admired and revered today, as they remain some of the most influential contributions to the world of abstract expressionism. Willem de Kooning is renowned for his singular approach to abstraction and his expansive body of work that was a significant contribution to the Abstract Expressionism movement.

His works have continued to inspire artists and art enthusiasts worldwide. In this article expansion, we will take a closer look at some of his notable works and analyze their features, techniques, and themes.

Seated Woman (1940)

One of Willem de Kooning’s earliest works is Seated Woman. This painting features a distorted female figure, whose body parts are disconnected and contorted.

The woman is seen seated with her back turned towards the viewer and draped in a yellow dress. The painting is a representation of the Modernist movement, which sought to break away from the conventions of traditional art.

The unconnected body parts of Seated Woman highlight de Kooning’s explorations of the human form and its relationship to space. The painting’s distorted figure allows for a more intricate interpretation of the female form, and the twisted and curving lines evoke a sense of fluidity that causes the viewer’s eyes to move around the canvas.

Pink Angels (1945)

Pink Angels is also one of Willem de Kooning’s earlier works and features coral and pink-colored biomorphic figures on a white background. The painting was produced in his signature gestural style, with tracings across the canvas that add a sense of depth and texture to the work.

The Pink Angels series is an honorable mention in Willem de Kooning’s work as they showcase his technique of using gestural strokes to create a surface of color fields. The figures depicted in the painting are biomorphic, which means that they are composed of abstract forms resembling living organisms or shapes.

This series also marks the beginning of the artist’s exploration of the influence of nature on abstract art.

Woman III (1953)

Woman III is one of Willem de Kooning’s most well-known works. It is a representation of the artist’s fascination with the female form and was a part of his Woman series that created a controversy for the exaggerated and distorted body parts it depicted.

The painting features a dynamic swathe of motion, where the brushstrokes create a sense of force and tension that oscillates between the layers of paint. The painting contains features that are characteristic of other de Kooning’s works, such as loose gestural brushwork and strong contrast between light and dark colors.

It imposes a certain violence in its lines that add drama and tension to the work.

Woman and Child (1967)

Woman and Child is an artwork that is part of Willem de Kooning’s later works. The painting portrays a celestial and divine image of womanhood, with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child depicted in an abstract form.

The work was created after the artist reached the peak of his career and is a representation of his evolution as an artist. The celestial theme of Woman and Child, with a divine female character, is a divergence from the artist’s earlier works that were primarily focused on the physicality of the female form.

The painting’s abstract style liberates the work from its realistic rendering, creating the possibility for different interpretations of the figures.

Untitled VI (1983)

Untitled VI is one of Willem de Kooning’s later works, created towards the end of his career. The work is a distillation of his earlier paintings and features a complex composition of blue and red ribbons winding across the surface of the painting.

This work is a representation of de Kooning’s resolution of his earlier works’ contradictions and explorations of abstraction, and his final manifestation of expressionism as a more meditative approach to mark-making. The rambling ribbons are reminiscent of his signature biomorphic shapes, but they are now stripped back to appear with reduced motifs.


In conclusion, Willem de Kooning’s works transcend time and reflect on his passion and talent for capturing the essence of his artistic expression. With the pieces mentioned in this article expansion, we can see the different ways in which his works have evolved over time and the various themes and techniques employed in his creation of abstract compositions.

These works remain an exceptional contribution to the world of art and continue to inspire artists to this day. In conclusion, Willem de Kooning’s artworks have solidified his place as one of America’s leading artists of the 20th century.

This article covers his biography, artistic development, and notable works that showcase his unique techniques and style. De Kooning’s unconventional approach to abstract expressionism challenged traditional art-making techniques and expanded the horizons of contemporary art.

From Seated Woman to Untitled VI, his paintings explored the human form and its relationship to space, nature, and divinity. Through his work, de Kooning has left an enduring impact on the art world, inspiring artists and art enthusiasts for generations to come.

Popular Posts