Willem de Kooning
A first-generation Abstract Expressionist, Willem de Kooning is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. In 1950s New York, when painters like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline were moving away from representational imagery toward pure abstraction, de Kooning maintained a commitment to the figurative tradition, developing a signature style that fused vivid color and aggressive paint handling with deconstructed images of the female form—a then-controversial body of works that has become known as his “Women” paintings. “Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” he famously said. Influenced by Arshile Gorky and Pablo Picasso, de Kooning was often thought to have blended Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism in his signature style, paving the way for generations of gestural figurative painters like Cecily Brown. Following his “Women” series, de Kooning pursued non-objective lyrical abstraction until his death in 1997.