Willem de Kooning chronology


de Kooning with painting, 1946. Photograph by Harry Bowden, 10x9in. Archives of American Art.

1904 April 24, Willem de Kooning is born in Port of Rotterdam, Holland, to Leendert de Kooning (b. February 10, 1876) and Cornelia Nobel de Kooning (b. March 3, 1877). He has one older sister, Marie (b. 1899). (His mother later gives birth to three more daughters, none of whom live past one year.)

1909 Parents divorce; court awards custody of five-year-old Willem to his father. His mother, however, kidnaps Willem and is later awarded full custody.

1916 Completes grammar school.

1916-1920 Begins training in commercial art under Jan and Jaap Giding, proprietors of a large commercial art firm, with whom he resides. Enrolls in the Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen in Brussels, Belgium, attending night classes until 1924, when he graduates with certifications in both carpentry and art.

1920 Leaves the Giddings to begin training with Bernard Romein, noted art director of a large department store in Rotterdam.

1924-1926 Travels to Antwerp and enrolls in the Van Schelling School of Design, commuting to Brussels to study simultaneously at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, supporting himself with commercial work.


The Kiss, 1925. Graphite on paper, 48.3x33.5cm. Allan Stone Gallery, New York City.

1926 Immigrates to United States as a stow-away on the SS Shelly, arriving in Newport News, Virginia on July 30. Takes ship to Boston, Massachusetts, then travels by train to Rhode Island. Settles in Hoboken, New Jersey, and finds lodging at the Dutch Seaman’s Home. Becomes acquainted with other artists and moves to New York City. Works as commercial artist and as a sign-painter, window dresser, and carpenter.

1927 Moves to Manhattan and begins working for Eastman Brothers, a design firm. Meets Misha Reznikoff, who is later instrumental in securing his 1948 summer teaching job at Black Mountain College.

1928 Spends the summer at the artists’ colony in Woodstock, New York.

1929 Becomes associated with modern artists John Graham and Stuart Davis. Buys Capehart hi-fi sound system, spending nearly six months’ salary. Frequents George’s in the Village and the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem with David Margoli and other artists.

1930 Meets David Smith and Arshile Gorky. Moves into studio apartment with Gorky. Works as a window dresser for A.S. Beck, a chain of shoe stores in New York. Meets Virginia “Nini” Diaz, with whom he goes to Woodstock, New York. in late May. Moves to 348 W. 55th Street with Diaz in the autumn; Diaz’s mother moves in. Diaz has first of three abortions, the last in 1935, which leaves her unable to conceive.

1932 Moves to Greenwich Village with Diaz.

1934 Joins Artist’s Union, which leads to attending John Reed Club (a pro- Communist group) meetings, despite his anti-Commuist leanings. Meets Julie Browner in May and begins relationship; Diaz moves out. Returns to Woodstock and rents home with Browner for the summer. Invites Diaz to join them, which she does, resulting in a ménage à trois. Invites Marie Marchowski and her friend to join them; they also move in. Returns to New York City, live at 40 Union Square, a home owned by friend and architect Mac Vogel. Browning returns from Woodstock; she and de Kooning move to 145 West 21st Street, then to 145 West 23rd Street.

1935 Meets Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby, who become first collectors of de Kooning’s work. Begins full-time employment with the mural division of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project, one of which is the Williamsburg Federal Housing Project in Brooklyn. Makes pivotal decision to devote his life to art, inspired by WPA director Burgoyne Diller. Leaves A.S. Beck to pursue art full time. Meets art critic, Harold Rosenberg. His mother comes to visit.

1936 Moves with Browner to commercially-zoned 156 West 22nd Street. Meets artist Mark Rothko. Unfinished work for the Williamsburg mural is included in group exhibition New Horizons in American Art at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, September 14-October 12; this is his first public recognition in America. Declines participation in the American Abstract Artists group.

1937 System and Dialectics of Art, by John Graham, is published, naming de Kooning one of eight painters he considered “outstanding.” Arshile Gorky paints Portrait of Master Bill, a painting of de Kooning. Resigns from the WPA in August when “American citizens only” policy is announced, effective post-July. Begins work on a mural, Medicine, for the World’s Fair on the Hall of Pharmacy building; work on this continues until early 1939.

1938 Browner moves in with Diaz. Meets Elaine Marie Fried, a fellow artist and teacher. Paints a series of male figures, including Two Men Standing, A Man, and Seated Figure. Begins abstractions Pink Landscape and Elegy.

1939 Becomes influenced by the Surrealist style of Gorky and Picasso and the Gestural style of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Suffers financially; tutors local art students. Becomes engaged to Fried. Visits Balcomb Greene in Fishkill. With other artists, petitions the Museum of Modern Art to show the work of Earl Kerkam after his death.

The Glazier, 1940. Oil on canvas, 54x44 in. Metropolitan Museum. Figure.

1940 Alcoholism and poverty are both significant. Becomes identified with the Abstract Expressionist movement. Drawings appear in Harper’s Bazaar. On May 14, his birthplace, Rotterdam, is hit by Germans. Harper’s Bazaar commissions four hairstyle sketches, with Elaine as model, for $75 each.

1941 Attends Miro exhibition. Is influenced by Matta, with whom he and Gorky become friends.

1942 Work is featured in the January 20-February 6 John Graham exhibition at McMillan, Inc. Drawing of a sailor with pipe is used in advertisement for Model Tobacco in Life Magazine.

1943 George Keller promises a one-man show at his Bignou Gallery; de Kooning fails to send sufficient work to exhibit. A group show included Pink Landscape and Elegy; both were bought by Helena Rubenstein for $1,050. Moved to 156 West 22nd Street. In summer, meets Franz Kline at Conrad Marca Relli’s 148 West 4th Street studio. Marries Elaine Fried on December 9. Shortly thereafter, he discovers her in bed with ex-lover, Robert Jonas.

1944 Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States features de Kooning’s work at the Cincinnati Art Museum, February 8 - March 12. After closing, the exhibition moves to the Mortimer Brandt Gallery. Sidney Janis publishes the book, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America.

1945 Painting The Netherlands wins competition sponsored by the Container Corporation of America in January. The Wave is shown in the Autumn Salon at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century exhibition in the fall. Elaine sails to Provincetown with physicist Bill Hardy; de Kooning disapproves. Paints Pink Angels.

1946 Inspired by Pollock and Kline, begins first black-and-white abstracts. Charles Egan opens gallery at 63 East 57th Street. Marie Marchowsky commissions backdrop for a dance performance at New York Times Hall; de Kooning and Resnick collaborate on the project. Rents a studio with Jack Tworkov. Contacts father by letter in November requesting to see him. His father encourages him to seek more stable employment.


Valentine, 1947. Oil and enamel. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abstract.

1947 Creates the black-and-white painting, Orestes, entitled by Tiger’s Eye magazine.

1948 Charles Egan Gallery arranges first one-man show on April 12, consisting of black-and-white enamels including Painting, Village, Square & Dark Pond; reviews are favorable. Museum of Modern Art purchases Painting for $700; it is the only sale of the exhibition. Teaches summer session at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Returns with student Pat Passlof.. Arshile Gorky hangs himself July 21. Elaine has affairs with Charles Egan, a brief fling with Harold Rosenburg, and then an affair withThomas Hess; the latter relationship lasts until the early 1950s. Willem has numerous trysts and involvements. Mailbox is shown at the Whitney’s annual show of American art the fall. Life magazine names de Kooning one of the five “young extremists.”

1949 Meets Mary Abbott; begins affair which extends intermittently until the mid-1950s. Is introduced to projector by Franz Kline; begins series of large canvas abstractions. Gives first public statement at The Subjects of the Artist School. Drinking increases. Rents cottage with Elaine in Provincetown. Paints Sailcloth and Two Women on a Wharf. Sidney Janis Gallery features portrait of de Kooning with Elaine in exhibition. Intrasubjectives exhibition at Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, September 4 – October 3, includes de Kooning. Opens restaurant, The Club, with other artists.

1950 Begins Woman I; at nearly seven feet in height, it is his largest, completes in 1952. Participates with Alfred Barr in the Venice Biennale exhibition of younger American Painters in the U.S. Pavilion, June 8-October 15. Young Painters in the U.S. and France exhibits Woman (1949-1950) at the Sidney Janis Gallery. Joins symposium which writes letter of protest to New York Herald Tribune regarding the national jury of selection for the Metropolitan Museum of Art; group pickets the Museum and refuses to submit work. New York Herald Tribune calls the group “The Irascible Eighteen.” Protest is covered in numerous national magazines. Teaches at Yale School of Art until 1952. Helps title Franz Kline’s first one-man show.

1951 Excavation is exhibited in Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America at the Museum of Modern Art, January 23 – March 25. Speaks at symposium organized by the Museum of Modern Art. Holds one-man show at Egan Gallery in April, with limited sales and no proceeds after expenses. Participates in Ninth Street Exhibition. Receives financial support from Sidney Janis, contingent upon agreement to call his studio the Janis Gallery. Excavation wins $4,000 first prize in the 60th Annual American Exhibition: Paint and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. One of 20 artists exhibited in the American Vanguard Art for Paris exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, December 26 – January 5, 1952.

1952 Abandons Woman I, but revisits at the urging of art historian Meyer Sharpiro in June; completes in mid-June, but begins reworking in December. Starts several new “Woman” works. Elaine accompanies him to the Hamptons. Moves to 88 East 10th Street; spends much time with Harold Rosenberg. Meets art student Joan Ward, who becomes pregnant; the pregnancy is aborted.


Woman I, 1950. Oil on canvas, 192.7x147.3. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1953 Officially changes studio name to Janis Gallery. Exhibits small retrospective at the Workshop Center for the Arts in Washington and School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. First show at Sidney Janis Gallery opens in March. Drinking increases, as does continual reworking of paintings.

1954 Participates in Venice Biennale with Excavation; becomes famous as leading Abstract Expressionism artist. Has affair with Marisol Escobar. Rents house in Bridgehampton in the summer with Elaine, Ward, Ludwig Sander, and Franz Kline. Sells pictures to Martha Jackson and uses money for fare for his mother to visit. Begins painting abstract landscapes, using bright “circus colors.”

1955 Joan Ward becomes pregnant.

1956 Ward gives birth to Johanna Lisbeth (Lisa) de Kooning on January 29. Has second one-man show at Sidney Janis Gallery, April 3; the show is a sell-out. Jackson Pollock and Edith Metzger die in car crash August 11. Elaine returns from Europe and joins de Kooning, Ward and Lisa at Martha’s Vineyard.

1957 Has affair with Pollock’s widow, Ruth Kligman. Later has affair with actress Shirley Stoler; allegedly offers her painting, which she refuses. Creates abstract landscapes, continues “Woman” art from 1957- 1961.


Two figures in landscape. Oil. National Galleyr of Australia. Painting.

1958 Takes Ruth Kligman to Cuba in February; they drift apart but reunite and spend early summer at Martha’s Vineyard together. Meets attorney Lee Eastman. Travels to Europe to meet Kligman. Hires Bernard Reis as accountant in May.

1959 Moves studio to 831 Broadway. Monograph on de Kooning by Thomas B. Hess is published by Braziller in New York. Sidney Janis Gallery opens exhibition of new large abstractions on May 4; all pieces sell. Woman series and some urban landscapes are shown at The New American Painting as shown in 8 European Countries 1958-1959 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, May 28 – September 8. Buys 4.2 acres in the Springs of Long Island on June 23. Stays with Kligman in Rome from July 28 until January 1960, where he begins working with black enamel mixed with pumice, also produces several collages. Ward moves to San Francisco with Lisa. Work is featured in Sixteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, December 16 – February 17, 1960.

1960 Michael Sonnabend and Robert Snyder make film documentary which features Sketchbook No. 1: Three Americans. Returns from Italy and hires young California artist Dane Dixon as assistant. Grove Press publishes De Kooning, by Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh. Spends summer in Southhampton. Visits Joan Ward and Lisa in San Francisco; visits galleries and does lithographs in Berkelely. Convinces Ward to return to New York. Drinking escalates.


Waves, 1960. Lithograph, 109x73cm, Yale University Gallery. Print.

1961 Buys more land in the Springs. Has affair with Marina Ospina.

1962 Becomes American citizen. March exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery fails. Meets Mera McAlister in March; affair lasts until winter. Sidney Janis allows Allan Stone to handle some small works; Newman- De Kooning, an exhibition of two founding fathers opens at the Allan Stone Gallery at 48 East 86th Street, October 23. The New Realists group show runs October 31 – December 1 at the Sidney Janis Gallery. Elaine paints portrait of President Kennedy for the Harry S. Truman Library.

1963 Moves back to the Springs in March, resides with Ward and Lisa. Later moves to East Hampton, Long Island. Paints Clam Diggers. Begins affair with neighbor Susan Brockman in the summer; moves in with Brockman and her friend, Clare Hooten. Later moves with Brockman to cottage on Barnes Landing, then to house owned by Bernice D’Vorazon. Later stays with John and Rae Ferren, then rents home near studio on Woodbine Drive. Splits from Brockman, but reunites in winter. Is hospitalized for alcoholism, but drinks again after release. Produces only one painting, Two Standing Women.

1964 Plans 1968 retrospective with Eduard de Wilde from the Stedelijk Museum in Holland. Ward and Lisa move to 3rd Avenue apartment. Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in September. Becomes friends with art collector Joseph Hirshhorn. Harold Rosenberg writes profile for Vogue magazine.

1965 The Institute of Contemporary Art features de Kooning in The Decisive Years, 1943 to 1953, exhibiting January 13 – February 19. Ends relationship with Sidney Janis, resulting in multiple lawsuits. Rents cottage with Brockman in the spring; relationship ends shortly thereafter. Accepts retrospective at Smith College, April 8 – May 2. Gives paintings to Ward and Lisa; draws up will, leaving most of his money to Lisa. Personal assistant John McMahon becomes part-time employee; Michael Wright is hired. Intermittent hospitalizations for alcoholism. Has affair with Molly Barnes. Police Gazette sells for $37,000, October 13.

1966 Enters Southampton Hospital for alcoholism in January. Attends Lisa’s birthday party in New York. Becomes involved with anti-war protests, grows hair. Draws Women Singing I, Women Singing II, and Screaming Girls.

1967 Walker and Company publishes 24 charcoal drawings produced in 1966. Joins prestigious New York gallery M. Knoedler and Company to start contemporary art department. Eastman negotiates $100,000 annual guarantee for first refusal of work. Provides 22 additional paintings on August 4, including several of the Women on the Sign series. Ward and Lisa return to the Springs. First exhibition at M. Knoedler and Company opens November 10; works include Woman Sag Harbour, Woman Accobanac, Woman Springs, and Woman, Montaulk. Despite negative reviews, some sell. Enters Southampton Hospital for alcoholism in December.

1968 Michael Wright resigns. Visits Europe, returns to Holland for major retrospective at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, accompanied by Ward, Lisa, and Leo Cohan. (Exhibition begins there September 18, travels to London on December 8, then New York, March 5 – April 26, 1969.) Sees sister, Marie, and step-brother, Koos Lassoy; they visit their mother September 19, who dies October 8. Has car crash on Thanksgiving after drinking, he and Ward survive.

1969 Retrospect of 147 paintings, pastels, collages and drawings is held at the Museum of Modern Art, March 5 – April 26, to mixed reviews. Begins renovations of home with Ward in spring. Takes Brockman to Italy in summer; upon return, stays with her and visits Ward and Lisa. Begins sculpting in bronze. Hires David Christian to make enlarged experimental version of previous small work, Seated Woman.

1970 Visits Japan. Works on lithography; produces Love to Wakako and Mr. and Mrs. Krishner. Has affair with Emilie (Mimi) Kilgore in August; proclaims true love.


Minnie Mouse, 1971. Lithograph, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Print.


Landscape at Stanton Street, 1971. Lithograph, 75.8x56cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Print.

1971 Sculpts Clam Digger. Moves back into studio in August. Exhibits Seven by de Kooning at the Museum of Modern Art in December.

1972 Takes Mimi to attend the Venice Bienne in June. Has final exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery (part of legal settlement) in October. Lisa moves to New York, residing with de Kooning before taking apartment at 3rd Avenue and 10th Street.

1973 Enters Southampton Hospital with liver and pancreas damage in February. Undergoes rehabilitation in October and November.

1974 Traveling exhibition is organized by Fourcade, Droll. Inc., which runs until early 1977. Woman V sells for $850,000 in September, a record price for a living American artist. Dane Dixon becomes full-time assistant after McMahon leaves.

1975 Exhibits in Japan and Paris. Proposes to Kilgore, who declines. Completes 24 works in six months. Exhibits at Fourcade, Droll, Inc. in October.


Two Trees, 1975. Oil on canvas. Thought Factory. Painting.

1976 Hirshhorn Museum and the U.S. Information Agency organize major traveling exhibition to tour eleven cities in Europe. Xavier Fourcade becomes exclusive art dealer of de Kooning; mounts show of 12 new works, to favorable reviews.

1977 Attends Alcoholics Anonymous with Elaine.

1978 Willem de Kooning in East Hampton exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, February 10 – April 23, is successful. American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist exhibit features de Kooning at the opening of the new East Building of the National Gallery in Washington in May. Goes on binge in June after several friends, including Harold Rosenberg and Thomas Hess, die.

1979 Stops painting. Drinking continues.

1980 Works becomes graphic. From 1980 to 1987, Tom Ferrarra is assistant.

1981 Lisa begins building house on studio grounds. Revises will to include Elaine as equal beneficiary with Lisa. Begins painting again in spring.

1982 February issue of Art News features Willem de Kooning: I Am Only Halfway Through, by Avis Berman; cover photograph of de Kooning ` and Paul McCartney taken by Linda Eastman, wife of McCartney and daughter of Lee Eastman. Dustin Hoffman films documentary, De Kooning on de Kooning for Strokes of Genius series in March. Attends premier. Also attends White House dinner to honor Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in April. New work is exhibited as New Paintings: 1981- 1982 at the Fourcade, Droll Gallery, March 17 – May 1.

1983 Finishes 54 paintings with the help of staff assistants. Is encouraged by Fourcade and Eastman to authorize enlarged photographs of sculptures. Untitled #2 is cast in a sterling silver, limited edition by Gemini Foundry in California. Allan Stone buys Two Women for $1.2 million in May. Willem de Kooning: Drawing, Paintings, Sculpture opens at the Whitney Museum of Art on December 15.

1984 Finishes 51 paintings. Receives commission to paint triptych for St. Peter’s Church in New York City; paints Hallelujah, which fails to receive hoped-for price of $900,000 and is taken down at the insistence of the congregation.

1985 Paints 63 pieces. Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are apparent. Works with help from Elaine and assistants on Untitled XIII and Untitled XX. Last show at the Fourcade, Droll Gallery, Exhibition of de Kooning’s recent work from 1984-1985 is held in October.

1986 Completes 43 works. Exhibition of Willem de Kooning’s work from 1983-1986 exhibits at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London.

1987 Does 26 paintings via projection of old sketches onto canvases by assistants. Pink Lady sells for $3.63 million. Xavier Fourcade dies of AIDS; de Kooning is not told. Elaine is diagnosed with lung cancer.

1988 Paints 27 paintings. Elaine authorizes a series of prints; encourages the changing of the will to make Lisa sole beneficiary. Attempt is blocked by Eastman, who remains executor. Elaine undergoes radiation treatments at Sloan-Kettering.

1989 Elaine dies at age 70; de Kooning is never told. Lisa and Eastman file petition declaring de Kooning incompetent. Eastman also attempts to become sole conservator, charging Lisa with mismanagement; court rules they remain co-conservators. Enters Southampton Hospital in May for a hernia operation, then in July for prostate surgery.

Untitled XXII, 1983. Oil on canvas, 70x80in. Saint Louis Museum of Art. Painting.

1990 Stops painting. Mini-retrospective, Willem de Kooning: An Exhibition of Paintings is held at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, September - October. De Kooning / Dubuffet: The Woman is shown at the Pace Gallery from December until January, 1991.

1993 Willem de Kooning from the Hirshhorn Museum Collection opens at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on October 21. Jennifer McLaughlin resigns; she is his final assistant.

1994 The Naitonal Gallery of Art in Washington exhibits Willem de Kooning: Paintings, May – September 5.

1996 The Academie Van Beeldende Kunsten en Technishche Wetenschappen, where de Kooning studied in Amsterdam, officially changes its name to the Willem de Kooning Academy.

1997 Dies March 19, 1997 in the Springs. Funeral is attended by some 300 friends and associates, including Ruth Kligman, Susan Brockman, Molly Barnes, and Emilie Kilgore. Lisa is guest speaker.