Willem De Kooning was born in 1904 in Rotterdem, the Netherlands. He enrolled in classes at the Rotterdem Academy of Fine Art which he was apprenticed to a commercial art and decorating firm and later, working for an art director. He visited museums in Belgium in 1924 and completed further studies in Brussels and Antwerp.
In 1926 Willem left Europe and arrived in New York City as a stowaway. In 1927 he met Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and John Graham who introduced him to Cubism, particularly the work of Pablo Picasso. He took various commercial art jobs as well as earning a wage as a house painted until 1935, when he was employed in the mural and easel divisions of the Federal Art Project. However, in 1937 he was forced to resign because he was not yet an American citizen. From then on, De Kooning painted full-time.
In the late 1930's, his abstract and figurative work was mostly influenced by the Cubism and Surrealism of Picasso and by Gorky who he shared a studio with.
In 1938 de Kooning started creating works with a theme that would recur many times in his later life - Women. He exhibited in many group shows during the 1940s with other artists who would form the New York School and became known as Abstract Expressionists. The artists included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.
De Kooning's first solo exhibition took place at the Egan Gallery, New York in 1948 and established his reputation as an important and influential artist. In 1950 de Kooning followed up his 1938 Women with a new series, reintroducing the female form into large and garishly painted canvases. In the following decade he fused landscape fragments with the figural and abstract elements in his paintings and drawings.