De Kooning: Book summary and reviews of De Kooning by Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan

De Kooning

An American Master

By Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan

De Kooning
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2004,
    752 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2005
  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2004

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Media Reviews

"[t]his 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." - PW

"Reviewers single out this tome as a gripping read for both fans of the painter and the uninitiated." - Bookmarks

"Here are rival artists, dueling critics, rampant promiscuity, heroic intentions, demoralizing poverty, heavy drinking, depression, and through it all de Kooning's quest for powerful and authentic expression." - Booklist

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