Happy Birthday, Willem de Kooning!
On April 24, 1904 artist Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. de Kooning was one of the major figures of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Abstract Expressionism was an art movement developed in New York City and the “first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world.” de Kooning came to Manhattan in 1927 after stowing away in 1926 on a British freighter, the Shelly, which was bound for Argentina. After World War II, de Kooning became a pioneering figure in the establishment of Abstract Expressionism, along with artists such as Jackson Pollock.
His most famous works are those from his Women series, which features stylized and grotesque female figures set in a backdrop of abstract lines and frenetic, contrasting colors. According to text by Harold Rosenberg, “From 1940 to the present, Woman has manifested herself in de Kooning’s paintings and drawings as at once the focus of desire, frustration, inner conflict, pleasure, … and as posing problems of conception and handling as demanding as those of an engineer.”
de Kooning has many connections to Greenwich Village, like many other artists and creatives of the post-war period. For instance, he himself lived on 10th Street and showcased his work at the now defunct East 10th Street Galleries. The galleries were located at 90 East 10th Street, next door to the apartment of de Kooning. de Kooning was also a frequent patron of the Cedar Tavern, a bar and restaurant located at 24 University Place that was a popular hangout for the Abstract Expressionists and Beat Poets. Overall, de Kooning is another person who added to the rich artistic history and legacy of the Village, and were it not for artists like him and his contemporaries the” first specifically American” art movement of Abstract Expressionism would probably never had been developed.
Perhaps most importantly, he also had a home and studio at 827-831 Broadway (12th/13th Streets) where he did some of the most important work of his career. In 2016, this pair of 1866 cast-iron and masonry loft buildings were slated for demolition and replacement with a 300 ft. tall office tower. Village Preservation proposed the buildings for landmark designation and led a year and a half campaign to save them, culminating in their landmark designation in late 2017.
Can’t get enough de Kooning? Check out this amazing collection of photographs of the master painter at his loft at 827-831 Broadway taken by Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah, prints of which are available for sale exclusively through Village Preservation supporting our work.