Willem de Kooning was born on April 24, 1904, into a working class family in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Driven by an acutely perceptive mind, a strong work ethic, and persistent self doubt – coupled with the determination to achieve – the charismatic de Kooning became one of America’s and the twentieth century’s most influential artists.
Showing an interest in art from an early age, de Kooning was apprenticed to a leading design firm when he was twelve and, with its encouragement, enrolled in night school at the prestigious Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques (Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen te Rotterdam), which was renamed in his honor in 1998 as the Willem de Kooning Academie. With the help of his friend, Leo Cohan, in 1926 he stowed away on a ship to the United States, settling in New York City in 1927. At that point, it was not the life of an artist that he was in search of; rather, like many young Europeans, it was the movie version of the American dream (big money, girls, cowboys, etc.). Nevertheless, after briefly working as a house painter, he established himself as a commercial artist and became immersed in his own painting and the New York art world, befriending such artists as Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky.