After developing his signature abstract vocabulary in the 1940s, de Kooning turned to figuration in the early 1950s, blending his inventive approach to brushwork and form with an interest in the female figure.
Over the next decade, de Kooning began to travel more frequently from New York City to East Hampton, and in 1963, built a studio there in the rural town of Springs, New York.
Willem de Kooning’s studio in Springs, New York
This move was crucial to the development of the artist’s style. In 1980, de Kooning was to shift his approach once more, creating a celebrated group of late paintings.
Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXI, 1982. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Willem de Kooning, Untitled III, 1982. Museum of Modern Art, New York
Henri Matisse, Le Bonheur de Vivre, also called The Joy of Life, 1905–1906. BF719. © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Arshile Gorky, Garden in Sochi, c.1943. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
“In such abstract arabesques as those in Milkmaid (Untitled X), the linear choreography suffused with intense luminosity is reminiscent of the stylized figurative outlining and chromatic brilliance of Matisse’s early masterpiece, The Joy of Life.”
—Judith Zilczer, 2014
A spread from A Way of Living: The Art of Willem de Kooning, showing stages in the creation of Milkmaid (Untitled X), 1984
Installation view, Willem de Kooning: The Late Paintings, The 1980s with Milkmaid (Untitled X) seen at center, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1997