7 Fun Facts to Celebrate Willem de Kooning’s Birthday
When did MoMA first acquire a work by the artist?
Lauded for being an early pioneer of Abstract Expressionism and “action painting,” Dutch American painter Willem de Kooning, were he alive, would have turned 111-years-old today.
In celebration of his birthday, we’ve gathered some fun facts about the artist.
1. De Kooning dropped out of school when he was just 12 years old to start an apprenticeship in commercial design and decorating. During his apprenticeship, he took classes at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. At 16, he landed a job with an art director of a large department store.
2. In 1926, De Kooning stowed away on a ship bound for the United States. When he arrived in the country, he jumped between several jobs in commercial design but eventually settled in New York City where he would continue to build his career as an artist.
3. In 1935, De Kooning began a job for the federal art project for the Works Progress Administration, through which he created murals and other works of art. (See A Treasure Hunt for Lost WPA Masterpieces.) However, since he was not an American citizen, he was forced to resign two years later.
4. The artist was first featured at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1936 exhibition “New Horizons in American Art.” It was a decade after he came to the United States. In 2011, MoMA staged “De Kooning: A Retrospective,” the first major museum survey dedicated to the full range of De Kooning’s career. (See Beauty and the Beastly Artist: Willem de Kooning’s Destructiveness.)
5. In 1948, De Kooning had his first solo show at the Charles Egan Gallery. (See Legendary Women Art Dealers You Need to Know, Part III.) Six months later, MoMA acquired its first work by the artist. During this period of De Kooning’s life, he also began teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and at the Yale School of Art.
6. De Kooning hired Elaine Fried as his apprentice to sit for him. They married in 1943 and would remain married for over 45 years. Their relationship was fraught and they were separated for over a decade during that time, but the pair later reunited and remained together until Elaine’s death in 1989. (See Artist Says National Portrait Gallery Trivializes Elaine de Kooning.)
7. The artist had an on-again-off-again relationship with figurative painting. In 1953, with his show at the Sidney Janis Gallery “Paintings on the Theme of the Woman,” he became a driving force in a new figurative Expressionism. He abandoned it in 1956 in favor of abstraction but later returned to it in the early 1960s with the second generation of his “Woman” series.
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