Willem de Kooning
Woman, 1950

De Kooning’s paintings of women from the early 1950s came on the heels of a highly successful series of black-and-white abstractions. His figural subject matter was at first criticized as a step back because it went against the current trend toward abstract compositions. In the years since, however, these works have been lauded as some of his best, and they remain his most well known.

This is one of De Kooning’s earliest paintings of the subject, which he would revisit many times over the next five years. In later pieces the fleshy, pink, figurative style yields to an aggressive patchwork of bright yellows, reds, and greens as well as an increasing sense of violence.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Willem de Kooning
Date created
oil on masonite and paper
36 5/8 in. × 24 1/2 in. (93.03 cm × 62.23 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
© The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

What were de Kooning’s attitudes toward women?

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Gary Garrels, curator at the Museum: 



In some ways the painting is quite sensual, it’s quite delicate. The rendering of the line is very complex. The form is very unstable though. It sort of comes in and out of focus. There isn’t any one place where you can finally resolve the image. It keeps shifting. That also reflects his attitude toward art. That art was a process of discovery. He was more interested in the process of painting than he was in making a finished picture. The high-keyed color, the kind of tormented, psychological feeling of the picture, the intense energy, and yet the beauty of the surface, of the way it’s painted, I think is not unlike Van Gogh.  



De Kooning painted a number of Woman paintings, and they’ve become his most famous series. In these works he reflects a variety of moods and inspirations, from popular pinups to powerful goddesses. His actual relationship to the female form, however, has often been subject to art world debate.  



Did he hate women? Was he angry at women? It’s never going to be possible to finally resolve those questions. There are issues around his relationship with his mother, from whom he was very estranged. On the other hand, De Kooning profoundly loved women. His affairs in the New York art world were legendary. He was quite the ladies’ man. He was very handsome. He was one of the funniest and most pleasant companions. And yet on the other hand he would get wildly drunk and become incredibly antagonistic and angry. So he was a very complex man. I think all of those qualities show up in the painting. 

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Other Works by Willem de Kooning

See other works by Willem de Kooning

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