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De Kooningby Mark Stevens
2005 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Synopses & Reviews
The first major biography of one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Ten years in the making, this exhaustively researched biography is a masterful portrait of the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, who arrived in New York as a stowaway from Rotterdam in 1926 and underwent a long struggle to become a painter. During the Depression he was a central figure in the bohemian world of downtown New York, surviving on WPA and commercial work and slowly gathering the support of established artists and critics. By 1948, with his successful first show, he took his place as the romantic and charismatic leader of the New York School just when American art was beginning to dominate the international scene. Dashingly handsome, de Kooning had a tumultuous marriage to Elaine Marie Fried, an acclaimed painter herself. Days were spent painting powerful abstractions and intense, disturbing pictures of women — and nights were spent living on the edge, drinking, womanizing, and talking at the Cedar Bar with such friends as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Frank O'Hara. In the 1960s, exhausted by the feverish art world, he retreated to Long Island, where he painted an extraordinary series of pastorals. In the 1980s, as he slowly declined into Alzheimer's, he created a late style of haunting, ethereal work. This is an authoritative and illuminating exploration of the art, life, and world of Willem de Kooning.
"This sweeping biography, 10 years in the making, chronicles in fastidious detail de Kooning's rise from his humble beginnings in Rotterdam to his fame as an abstract expressionist and his descent into alcoholism and Alzheimer's. Emigrating to New York in 1926, de Kooning (1904 — 1997) situated himself among fellow artists and role models like Arshile Gorky. In 1938, he met and later married painter Elaine Fried; the two remained married despite de Kooning's predilection for bed hopping. (An affair with Joan Ward resulted in a daughter, Lisa, and indeed, the authors spend more ink on de Kooning's womanizing than his art making.) In the early 1940s, de Kooning's work appeared in group shows; his first solo show was a commercial failure. The artist did not meet with real success until the 1950s, when his paintings Excavation and Woman 1 made him 'first among equals' in the art world. Stevens, New York magazine's art critic, and Swan, a former senior arts editor at Newsweek, see in de Kooning's life the realization of classic stories — the triumph of the immigrant, the man consumed by his success, the nonexistence of life's second acts — and this comprehensive biography, which attempts to explain de Kooning's art through a careful catalogue of his personal life, is a must read for his admirers. Illus. Agent, Molly Friedrich at Aaron Priest. 40,000 first printing; author tour." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a book that traces de Kooning's history, puts him on Freud's couch, plumbs the mysteries of his cryptic and ever-changing work and follows the arc of modern art through much of the 20th century, fusing all these elements into a remarkably lucid narrative. Most unusually, it explores the details of a messy personal life without compromising its subject's dignity." The New York Times
Willem de Kooning is one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, a true “painters painter” whose protean work continues to inspire many artists. In the thirties and forties, along with Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock, he became a key figure in the revolutionary American movement of abstract expressionism. Of all the painters in that group, he worked the longest and was the most prolific, creating powerful, startling images well into the 1980s.
The first major biography of de Kooning captures both the life and work of this complex, romantic figure in American culture. Ten years in the making, and based on previously unseen letters and documents as well as on hundreds of interviews, this is a fresh, richly detailed, and masterful portrait. The young de Kooning overcame an unstable, impoverished, and often violent early family life to enter the Academie in Rotterdam, where he learned both classic art and guild techniques. Arriving in New York as a stowaway from Holland in 1926, he underwent a long struggle to become a painter and an American, developing a passionate friendship with his fellow immigrant Arshile Gorky, who was both a mentor and an inspiration. During the Depression, de Kooning emerged as a central figure in the bohemian world of downtown New York, surviving by doing commercial work and painting murals for the WPA. His first show at the Egan Gallery in 1948 was a revelation. Soon, the critics Harold Rosenberg and Thomas Hess were championing his work, and de Kooning took his place as the charismatic leader of the New York school—just as American art began to dominate the international scene.
Dashingly handsome and treated like a movie star on the streets of downtown New York, de Kooning had a tumultuous marriage to Elaine de Kooning, herself a fascinating character of the period. At the height of his fame, he spent his days painting powerful abstractions and intense, disturbing pictures of the female figure—and his nights living on the edge, drinking, womanizing, and talking at the Cedar bar with such friends as Franz Kline and Frank OHara. By the 1960s, exhausted by the feverish art world, he retreated to the Springs on Long Island, where he painted an extraordinary series of lush pastorals. In the 1980s, as he slowly declined into what was almost certainly Alzheimers, he created a vast body of haunting and ethereal late work.
This is an authoritative and brilliant exploration of the art, life, and world of an American master.
Ten years in the making, this exhaustively researched biography is a masterful portrait of the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, who arrived in New York as a stowaway from Rotterdam in 1926 and underwent a long struggle to become a painter.
About the Author
Mark Stevens is the art critic for New York magazine. He has also been the art critic for The New Republic and Newsweek and has written for such publications as Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.
Annalyn Swan has been a writer at Time and an award-winning music critic and senior arts editor at Newsweek. She has written for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and New York magazine. She lives in New York City.
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