Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.
—Francis Bacon, in Essays (1625)

No American painter of his generation—the generation that gave us the New York School—has been the object of more adulation, imitation, interpretation, and sheer unbounded admiration than Willem de Kooning, whose work is currently the subject of an exhibition marking the artist’s ninetieth birthday.1 None has enjoyed greater critical acclaim, either. Long before the public was given its first glimpse of his work, he won the support of artists and writers —among them, John Graham, Arshile Gorky, Edwin Denby, Rudy Burckhardt, and Fairfield Porter—who recognized his exceptional talent and accorded it a...


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