Willem de Kooning & Mark Rothko – Differences & Similarities

Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko are two great American artists. They are both Abstract Expressionism artists.

Mart Rothko and Willem de Kooning are important artists of the abstract expressionism art movement. Even though they were in the same art movement, their art is quite different yet has some similarities. They both use color and layering in their work and saw how they executed their work as an important aspect of their paintings.

Willem de Kooning And Mark Rothko Are both Abstract Expressionism Painters

William de Kooning and Mark Rothko are both abstract expressionism painters, considered leaders of the Abstract Expressionism movement in New York City in the 1940s and 50s.

Abstract expressionism is a term that applies to a new form of abstract art American painters developed, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. One of the main aspects of abstract expressionism is using gestural brushstrokes, mark making, and impressionism of spontaneity.

Mark Rothko always said he was not part of any school, even though most scholars put him as a leader of the New York School of color field painting in Abstract Expressionism. Mark Rothko was known to say:

“I’m not an abstractionist… I’m not interested in relationships of colour or form or anything else.”

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko And Willem de Kooning – Two Different Groups Within Abstract Expressionism

Even though Mark Rothko never considered himself an Abstract Expressionism, he is considered a leader in this movement.

Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning are abstract expressionism painters; they are within two different types of groups that make up abstract expressionism. Here are their different groups explained:

  • Willem de Kooning An Action Painter – Willem de Kooning is considered an Action Painter within Abstract Expressionism. He would work with large brushes and make sweeping gestural marks on the canvas.
Mark Rothko With His Painting
  • Mark Rothko An Color Fields Painter – Mark Rothko is considered a color field painter within the Abstract Expressionism movement. He was interested in religion and myth and created simple compositions with large areas of color for meditative painting.

Color And Layer Were Important To Both Willem de Kooning And Mark Rothko

The color and color layering was essential to both De Kooning and Rothko. Both of them use color in their paintings to express what they wanted to express.

They both layered their paintings and would put on colors, including layers upon layers. How they would use and apply the color and do the layers would be very different.

Differences In Color And Layering of Mark Rothko And Willem De Kooning

How Rothko and De Kooning used color and layers was very different.

Mark Rothko’s Painting

When you look at Mark Rothko’s paintings, he used a lot of rectangles or almost square boxes that have layers of color. Most of his paintings are predominantly dominated by a few color choices.

Untitled XI (1975) By Willem de Kooning

De Kooning’s artwork usually has many colors on the canvas that have been applied repeatedly. He was known to scrape off the paint and start over again if he didn’t like something or wanted to change something. He also knew how to put things into the paint as sand or even pebbles, to give the paint more texture.

Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning’s Artistic Subject Matter Explained

Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning saw their subject matter as completed different. They both saw their paintings as a kind of experience.

For Mark Rothko, the experience took on a kind of spiritual nature. He was known to say:

“ An painting is not about an experience, it is an experience.”

Mark Rothko

For Mark Rothko, it was not about the subject matter or color; he saw his paintings as a way to move people emotionally. He wanted to see that his paintings evoked some personal emotions in us when we saw them that we did not just see them as blocks of color.

He was known to refuse to sell a canvas to someone if he felt they did not react the way they wanted them to react to his paintings. For him, the emotions expressed in that painting were important, not just the color, paint, or even the painting technique.

Willem de Kooning was known to use the female form as his inspiration in his work, but even that he knew could be up to interruption. Many of his paintings of the female form had been named Women 1 or Woman in Landscape. He is also known to paint or be inspired by urban landscapes.

Willem de Kooning said this about his paintings:

“I think I am painting a picture of two women but it may turn out to be a landscape.”

Willem de Kooning

Like Mark Rothko, for Willem de Kooning, it was not the subject matter as much as the process and experience for the painting. It was about the experience of how people would see the paintings, their emotions, and experiences in viewing the works of art.

Both Came From Europe But Lived Different Lives

Both Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning came from Europe. Mark Rothko came from Russia to the United States, and Willem de Kooning came from Holland.

Mark Rothko was known to suffer from depression, and in February 1970, he took his own life in his studio in New York City. At the time, he and his wife were separated; they had two children, a daughter, and a son.

Untitled 1970, A Red Blood Color, And Grey And Black Series By Mark Rothko

He left no suicide note, so many feel some of his paintings, particularly his Untitled 1970, a red blood color, and grey and black series, were a kind of suicide note. He also left behind a mess of his estate and paintings, drawn out court cases. Eventually, his children won the case.

Willem de Kooning also lived in New York but later moved to the East Hamptons, where he had a studio and home. He was married once but had many affairs with many women. He did have a daughter Lisa.

Throughout his life, he suffered from severe bouts of alcoholism and also dealt with depression.

Willem de Kooning lived to be 92, but for a large part of his older years, he could not paint as he had Alzheimer’s disease.

Willem de Kooning did have a very interesting relationship with the songwriter and singer of the Beatles, Paul McCartney. You can read more about our blog about Paul McCartney And Willem de Kooning’s Relationship And Art by clicking here.

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Why Are Mark Rothko’s Paintings Considered Special?

Mark Rothko’s paintings are remarkable because they are original works of art. He is one of the founders of the abstract expressionism movement and color field painting. But more than that, he believed that his spirit lives within the art and that we, the individuals, ca we view his art, can be taken to a different realm.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Are Mark Rothko’s Paintings Considered Special?.

Who is the American Artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)?

Jackson Pollock is considered by some to be one of the most brilliant American abstract artists that ever lived. Others consider his work of art as tossing around cans of paint by an artistic madman. One thing for certain is that Jackson Pollock is an important American abstract artist.

You can learn more by reading the blog Who is the American Artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)? by clicking here.

Who Was The Western American Artist Minerva Teichert (1888-1976)?

Minerva Teichert was, by all accounts, a cowgirl from Idaho who loved art. She studied art in both Chicago and New York. Minerva is known for her artwork of daily life in the western United States, historical events, and scenes from the scriptures.

You can read more by reading our blog Who Was The Western American Artist Minerva Teichert (1888-1976)? by clicking here.

Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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Willem de Kooning & Mark Rothko - Differences & Similarities