Willem de Kooning's Woman, painted in 1953, is one of the legendary series of paintings and drawings that burst forth from de Kooning's brush in a frenzy of activity in the early 1950s. This frenetic bout of activity followed the painterly frustration that had distinguished and defined the creation of his first great and radically groundbreaking painting of this series, Woman I, from 1950-1952.
This famous painting of simultaneous creation and destruction in which the powerful, terrifying, sensual and alluring image of a woman seems to hover between definition and destruction amidst the energized slaps, sweeps and swirls of de Kooning's brush was the product of nearly two years of constant work. Between the Summer of 1950 and the Spring of 1952, it was this painting, this haunting image of woman on which he constantly worked and reworked, scraping the canvas down and rebuilding it again until both he and it literally came to a standstill that obsessed de Kooning. Centered on a blank sheet of paper laid down on canvas, Woman is one of those works, like the many he showed at Sidney Janis's exhibition "Works on the Theme of Woman," in March 1953, that de Kooning evidently felt resolved and finished enough to display in their own right. A conglomeration of swift line, sweeping brush strokes, smeared paint, crayon and charcoal, this imposing figure is an extraordinary construction of gestural form in which de Kooning's painterly touch presents a startlingly fierce-looking and animate figure seemingly trapped in motion or caught at a glance. Stylish, fearsome, and sexy -- all swinging breasts, hips and eyeballs -- de Kooning here, like perhaps only Kirchner or Picasso before him -- offers a unique, very modern, fast-paced, Twentieth Century vision of the female as both power and sensation.
Art isn't a wholly masculine occupation, you know. I'm aware that some critics would take this to be an admission of latent homosexuality. If I painted beautiful women, would that make me a nonhomosexual? I like beautiful women. In the flesh: even the models in magazines. Women irritate me sometimes. I painted that irritation in the "Woman" series. That's all. (W. de Kooning, quoted in S. Rodman, "Willem de Kooning," Conversations with Artists, New York, 1957, p. 102).