Woman IV by William de Kooning is part of a series of works by the artist done in abstract expressionism, a style of painting that he pioneered. Woman IV was the fourth in a series of paintings that he executed from 1952 to 1953. The painting is contains elements of the time and space in which it was created – the wildness and spontaneity of the jazz era and bright colors that remind us of Technicolor. The woman, however, though full figured and wide-eyed, looks nothing like the Hollywood starlets of the day. She reminds us more of a Venus figure from times immortal, and invokes in the viewer plethora of feelings, from curiosity to mild revulsion.
De Kooning is celebrating the female figure here. Woman IV is full of vibrant colors; her body is rounded, not unlike the prehistoric Venus figures. Venus figurines are typified by having large, rounded hips and large breasts, similar to the body style of Woman IV. Woman IV is a mother, a giver of life, which is further exemplified by the vibrant and ecstatic colors she is painted in. However, unlike the Venus figurines, Woman IV has a head. Her head and face are childlike, somewhat grotesque, and far from the ideal of feminine beauty that was popular during the 1950’s.
During the 1950’s, women in the media were portrayed as full breasted, thin of waist and always perfectly coiffed. The media worshipped this ideal of feminine beauty even though it was unrealistic, commercialized, and ultimately fake. De Kooning’s female figures were far from this ideal. His women were uncoiffed, large of body, and, despite being abstract, realistic. De Kooning reminds us with his women that the female body is not simply a thing to hang clothes on or to look pretty in the kitchen. The female body is a vessel which brings life; her form is made to carry babies. De Kooning de-emphasizes the importance of the face in for his women. In modern times, a woman’s face is a critical aspect of her beauty. Yet, having a beautiful face does not make you a better mother, or more efficient at bringing life into the world. Like the ancient Venus artists, De Kooning’s art tells us that a woman’s beauty is not in her face, her perfectly styled hair, or her small waist; her beauty is in who she is, the giver of life, the mother of mankind.