PRINT January 2005


De Kooning: An American Master

IN WRITING THEIR large-scale biography of Willem de Kooning, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan evidently faced several major difficulties. The first is that, notwithstanding his majestic creative achievements, de Kooning led a rather uneventful life. True, there was his adventure in 1926 as a stowaway aboard a dirty British ship that got him to the United States, plus the numerous affairs that, in later years, were increasingly interspersed with his drunken binges. But a boat trip, copious lovemaking, and booze do not a biography of more than seven hundred pages make––or at least not a gripping one. By the time I reached the last page of De Kooning: An American Master, my feeling was not that it was a bad read or even an altogether boring one––on the contrary, the narrative is comprehensive and has some fine moments, especially when addressing the artist’s poignant last decade (other than

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