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Remembering Willem de Kooning

On April 24, 1904, artist and former resident of our neighborhood, Willem de Kooning, was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He would go on to be one of the 20th century’s leading artists within the Abstract Expressionist movement, a key figure in making New York the center of the art world.

Willem de Kooning in 1950; photograph by Rudy Burckhardt

De Kooning came to America as a stowaway on a British freighter in 1926, and in 1927 he moved to Manhattan.  Originally he made his living as a commercial artist, house painter, and carpenter. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he immersed himself in Manhattan’s art scene and worked on his own painting. He first exhibited in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. In the early 1940s, de Kooning painted both figurative and abstract works. By the late 1940s, he began painting black and white abstractions and made a name for himself among the downtown artists and art critics. These abstractions culminated in his work Excavation in 1950, touted as one of the greatest paintings of the twentieth century.

Excavation by de Kooning, 1950

In the fall of 1952, de Kooning moved into 88 East 10th Street within the Tenth Street artist enclave, which was central to the Abstract Expressionist school of the 1940’s and 1950’s. He had previously had a studio on Fourth Avenue but the space at 88 East 10th Street served as both art studio and home. Here, de Kooning turned his attention to his Woman series, including Woman I, which he had been working and re-working for two years prior. During his occupancy on East 10th Street, he also developed the theme of the “abstract urban landscape” in his works. One of his urban abstracts was Backyard on 10th Street (1956) which depicted the backyard between de Kooning’s studio and his neighbor’s. This painting showcased what the art critic Harold Rosenberg called the “no environment” of the East 10th Street artist enclave.

Backyard on Tenth Street, 1956

Post World War II, New York supplanted Paris as the center of the art world. With the death of Jackson Pollock in 1956, de Kooning was considered the master of that world. According to Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan in De Kooning An American Master, “The New York scene jelled on de Kooning’s doorstep.” The photo below of de Kooning on the stoop of 88 East 10th Street in 1959 taken by Fred W. McDarrah captures de Kooning at the height of this era, prints of which are available for purchase benefitting GVSHP here.

Willem de Kooning at top of the stoop at 88 East 10th Street, with Novelist Noel Clad, April 5, 1959  (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images).


Willem de Kooning at his studio at 831 Broadway March 23, 1961. © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah.

In 1958 de Kooning started seeking a new larger studio space and found it on the top floor of 831 Broadway, which thanks to the efforts of GVSHP was made a New York City landmark in 2017 along with its sister building at No. 827. At the studio at 831 Broadway, de Kooning painted Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point, the first of his paintings acquired by a European museum, and Door to the River, which is now in the Whitney Museum of American Art.  The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah has generously allowed GVSHP to share with the world a series of never-before-seen photos of de Kooning working at his 831 Broadway studio which can be found here.

827-831 Broadway


De Kooning moved out No. 831 in 1963 and took up permanent residence on the eastern end of Long Island where he would live out his days until his death in 1997.

Almost immediately following the landmark designation in 2017 of 827-831 Broadway, the new owners of the building proposed a four-story glass rooftop addition, which was vehemently objected to by GVHSP, fellow preservation groups, elected officials and the public. At the LPC public hearing for this proposal, the Commission called for revisions to the proposal. The revised proposal was presented on April 24, 2018, which GVSHP also opposed, and the LPC again asked that the applicant revise the design. Click HERE for the latest news on this application.

Revised proposed rooftop addition for 827-831 Broadway


Original proposed rooftop addition for 827-831 Broadway

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