December 06, 2004 12:00 PM

BIOGRAPHY

An American Master
by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan

Great artists often lead messy lives, and the Netherlands-born abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, who died in 1997, was no exception. But in this sensitive portrayal, gossip takes a backseat to a revealing psychological investigation. The authors are sympathetic in covering his early years in Rotterdam and his descent into alcoholism on Long Island in the ’70s. But de Kooning becomes less endearing when his icy treatment of former lovers comes to the fore. Stevens and Swan, both art critics, depict the ugly details—during a fight de Kooning told his wife that she “could make Siberia out of anywhere”—with panache. Readers will get a feel for the seamier side of the art world as well as an illustration of de Kooning’s hard-boiled charm.

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