Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands and received his early artistic training there before coming to the United States in 1926. At first he was influenced by the work of his Russian-born artist-friend John Graham, but in the late 1940s, in a series of black and white paintings, he synthesized the automatic drawing and biomorphism of Surrealism and the planarity of Cubism. These works—largely abstract though with many veiled references to the human figure—established de Kooning as one of the most influential artists of the New York School.
In 1950 de Kooning returned to figuration in a series of drawings and paintings of women, images that he described as vociferous and ferocious, and that seem related to the large-breasted, broad-hipped female figures of neolithic and Mesopotamian art. The artist's scrawling, graffiti-like line and his caricatural presentation have led to the interpretation that de Kooning has painted woman as desecrated icon. De Kooning abandoned the first painting of the series, Woman I (1950-52), as a failure, but he revived it at the suggestion of art historian Meyer Schapiro. The Woman paintings that followed are the best known of all de Kooning's works.
In this series, the bodies of the women are broken down into flat planar surfaces, often darkly outlined, in the manner of Picasso and Braque, with most of the activity at the center of the work. The brushwork and color have been liberated from the disciplines of the underlying Cubist structure in favor of lush applications of pink, blue, green, yellow, and brown. De Kooning's brushwork takes on an expressive, independent life, sometimes blurring the distinction between figure and background and sometimes reinforcing the figurative character of the image.
Woman VI, the last of this series, is the most abstract—the bottom half of the figure merges into the ground. De Kooning's fascination with process as opposed to product accounts for the unfinished quality of the work, which retains traces of the artist's energetic reworking of the image.