Willem de Kooning

Woman and Bicycle

Not on view



Oil, enamel, and charcoal on linen

Overall: 76 1/2 × 49 1/8in. (194.3 × 124.8 cm)

Accession number

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Rights and reproductions
© The Willem de Kooning Foundation/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A leading artist among the Abstract Expressionists, Willem de Kooning never believed that abstraction and representation were mutually exclusive. As he stated: “I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it–drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea.” Woman and Bicycle, one of a series of “Woman” paintings he made between 1950 and 1953, depicts a standing woman, whose form is clearly visible despite the painterly integration of her body into the surrounding field of non-objective marks. Although the female figure is one of the most traditional subjects in the history of art, the woman in de Kooning’s painting distinctly belongs to the 1950s. Her bright yellow dress, high heels, and garish smile—with a second toothy grin hanging below it like a necklace—reflect the glamorous pin-up girls and movie stars of the period.  


  • Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, 1952-53

    Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, 1952-53


    Elizabeth Murray: Es una catástrofe, de verdad. Es una especie de pintura catástrofe.

    Narrador: La artista Elizabeth Murray describe la pintura de Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, desde su perspectiva como colega pintora. 

    Elizabeth Murray: Lo que tiene de asombrosa esta pintura es ver la forma de la mujer emergiendo desde lo profundo, casi como si estuviera saliendo del agua, emergiendo con las dos bocas y los ojos impresionantes. Y por supuesto es una mujer muy extraña. Probablemente tiene puesto un vestido de noche, y parece que tiene una sonrisa estilo Marilyn Monroe. Y luego están las manos, que parecen sacudirse dentro de la pintura. Está sacudiendo las manos. Hay una bicicleta ahí en alguna parte, que está despedazada y dividida.

    Creo que lo que más me impactó de este cuadro fue la intensidad de la pintura. Sientes como si la estuviera frotando y mezclando desde abajo hacia arriba, y también aplastándola hacia abajo de nuevo. Toma papel de periódico y lo presiona contra la pintura. Luego toma la cuchilla, o lo que sea, y raspa la pintura de nuevo hacia arriba. Y luego toma el pincel, y le va dando una especie de forma.  

    Por eso todo se trata de una evidente sexualidad y exhibición. Y aun así, como muchas catástrofes, todo converge en algo extremadamente positivo. Eso es lo que hace que mirarla se vuelva una experiencia tan increíble.

  • America Is Hard to See

    Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, 1952–53

    Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, 1952–53


    Elizabeth Murray: It’s a catastrophe, really. It’s a kind of catastrophe painting. 

    Narrator: The late artist Elizabeth Murray described Willem de Kooning’s painting, Woman and Bicycle from the perspective of a fellow painter.

    Elizabeth Murray:  The thing about this painting that’s so amazing is to see the woman form kind of emerge from underneath, almost as though she’s coming out of water, kind of emerging with the two mouths and the amazing eyes. And of course she’s a very strange woman. She probably has like a kind of evening dress on, and I think—I think it is like the Marilyn Monroe smile. And then there are these hands that can flail around inside of the painting. The hands are flailing. There is the bicycle in there somewhere which is torn apart and ripped apart. 

    I think the thing that struck me the most about this painting was the intensity of the paint. You feel like he’s rubbing it and he’s stirring it up from the bottom, and he’s also pressing it back down. He takes newspaper and he presses it against the paint. Then he takes his knife, or anything, and scrapes the paint back up. And then he takes his brush, and pushes it into a kind of shape.  

    So it’s all about this clear sexuality and exposure. And yet, like a lot of catastrophes, it comes together in this extremely positive way. And I think that’s what makes it such an amazing experience to look at it.

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