Rudy Burckhardt, “Willem de Kooning”, 1950, Silver Gelatin Print, 21.6 x 18.4cm, Private Collection
This photograph taken by Rudy Burckhardt shows Willem de Kooning in his Fourth Avenue, New York, studio with drawings related to his “Woman I” painting in the background. “WomanI” was one of a series of six oil on canvas paintings centered upon a single female figure that de Kooning worked on from 1950 to 1953.
When de Kooning began to paint “Woman I”, abstraction was dominant in American art. Artists and critics had declared the human figure to be an obsolete subject, and de Kooning himself was enjoying acclaim for the abstract compositions he had been producing over the previous years. Many of his peers saw “Woman I” as a betrayal, a regression back to an outmoded tradition.
The painting also subjected de Kooning to accusations of misogyny, as viewers perceived his portrayal of its female subject to be menacing, objectifying, and violent. For de Kooning, however, this was a continuation of his earlier explorations of the human figure and an opportunity to further experiment with the wide-ranging methods of applying paint to canvas.