FRAME|WORK: Untitled XX by Willem de Kooning

Yesterday was the birthday of renowned Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Today’s FRAME|WORK—a weekly blog series highlighting an artwork in the permanent collection—features de Kooning’s 1977 painting, Untitled XX, which is currently on view in Gallery 15 at the de Young Museum.

Untitled XX

Willem de Kooning (American, 1904–1997). Untitled XX, 1977. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy. 2002.1

Although he was considered a pioneer and a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Willem de Kooning derided labels, notoriously stating, “It is disastrous to name ourselves.” Arising out of the post-World War II era, Abstract Expressionism dominated the art world in the late 1940s and well into the 1950s. Drawing on diverse influences including surrealism, theories of unconscious creation and existentialist thought, Abstract Expressionism remains one of the most influential movements in American and international art history.

De Kooning is perhaps best known for his controversial paintings of female nudes. In this later work, the artist obliquely returns to this theme, amalgamating it with another favorite topic: the landscape. Bringing together these two iconic subjects, de Kooning inextricably embeds the nude into the composition—whose energetic brushwork reveals elements reminiscent of earlier landscapes. But what the figure lacks in physicality, de Kooning makes up for in the curvilinear passages of rose and pink that occupy the left side of the painting. This sensuousness of paint recalls the artist’s celebrated comment, “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.”

Untitled XX is currently on display in Gallery 15 at the de Young, so stop by and wish Willem de Kooning a belated happy birthday in the flesh!