Willem de Kooning, Easter Monday, 1955-56
99.25 x 76.25 in.
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) was one of the most prominent members of the Abstract Expressionist movement. De Kooning was born in Rotterdam and received his first artistic training in the Netherlands. He moved to New York in 1926, traveling as a stowaway on a British freighter. De Kooning began to distinguish himself in the late 1930s and in the 40s he became increasingly associated with Abstract Expressionism and was recognized as one of the movement's leaders, although he was against that, or any, name for the group. In many ways de Kooning stands somewhat apart from the other members of the New York School. While many of them were immigrants, most came to the United States when they were children and received all of their artistic education here, whereas de Kooning began his studies in Rotterdam and immigrated as a young man. De Kooning also had less interest in psychoanalysis than many of his colleagues and took a more direct approach to his themes and imagery. He also did not abandon figuration in favor of pure abstraction as completely as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko did. Many of his works from the 1950s show abstracted but recognizable forms, such as Merritt Parkway and Woman I (one of de Kooning's most famous pieces). Another famous work of de Kooning's is Gotham News, which is one of his more fully abstract paintings. Easter Monday may appear completely abstract on first view, but we can actually identify certain forms. When exhibited, this painting was famously called "an abstract urban landscape" and it was taken from de Kooning's environment in downtown Manhattan. He was particularly inspired by the relationships between the buildings and light, the way some blocked light and some light shone through in the spaces between. There were a lot of renovations and broken down buildings at the time so such views were particularly apparent. We see these ideas in the jumps between colors and what may seem to be empty spaces. The haphazard nature of the piece evokes the whirlwind nature and gritty detritus of the city. Notice also the newsprint on the right of the canvas at the top and bottom. This was originally achieved accidentally, when he dripped oil on newspapers he had laid on the canvas but he like the effect and kept it. This is a very large painting and its impact in person cannot be adequately described. It hangs in the Met and I encourage all of my New York area readers to go see it.