Door 1: Willem de Kooning

In every field of art there is a need for a trailblazer, one who initially questions certain rules and tries to find new ways. Such a pioneer for the American abstract expressionism was the originally Dutch painter Willem de Kooning.

De Kooning was born in 1904 in Rotterdam, quit school in 1916 and started to work as an apprentice in a firm of commercial artists. Next to that he took evening courses at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, now called the Willem de Kooning Academie.


In 1926 he moved to the United States, initially hoping for the American Dream to come true and started to job as a carpenter, house-painter and commercial artist. After his move to New York in 1927 he began to paint in his free-time and befriended some modernist artists living in Manhattan, like Stuart Davis, Johan Graham and Ashile Gorky.

The later had the hugest influence on de Kooning, as he put it himself: When, about fifteen years ago, I walked into Arshile’s studio for the first time, the atmosphere was so beautiful that I got a little dizzy and when I came to, I was bright enough to take the hint immediately. If the bookkeepers think it necessary to make sure of where things and people came from, well then, I came from 36 Union Square [address of the studio of Gorky that time].. .I am glad that it is about impossible to get away from his powerful influence. (ART news, Vol. 47, no 9, January 1949)


After working for the Federal Art Project in 1934 and 1935, he decided to be a full time artist in 1937. A year later he met his future wife Elaine Fried, also a painter, whom he married in 1943 and stayed together until her death, despite alcoholism and affairs on both sides. For a long time he was seen as an artist's artist. He had not his first solo show until the the age of 44 at the Egan Gallery in New York, which first underlined his position as a major artist.

Despite the fact, that he was seen as a key artist in the New York School, he never associated himself with Abstract Expressionism. Contrary to some of his contemporaries, he did not develop a signature style and then sticked to it, but rather experimented and tried to push the boundaries over his six decades spanning career. This for him meant to also try out sculpture and not abandoning figure completely, as his most famous series Woman shows.


Today his works are among the most sought after and new sale records are reached every year. For example, his painting Interchange (1955) was sold this year for $300 million, making it the highest price ever paid for a painting.