Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
De Kooning: An American Master.
Knopf, 752 pages, $35

It’s not news that the New York Abstract Expressionists were an anxiety-ridden, hard-drinking group of cantankerous guys, passionate about art and (for the most part) brutal to women. The rhetoric attached to this generation reinforces these notions; the literature is rife with such terms as “breakthrough” and “arena for action,” and a major study of the period is titled “The Triumph of American Painting.” Yet research reveals that much of the lore of cold-water Tenth Street studios and argumentative artists’ gatherings at the Cedar Bar and The Club is essentially true, even though the reality of this near-mythical era proves, not surprisingly, to be more interesting, more complicated, less glamorous, and also less squalid than legend holds. The most recent examination of these heady years is Mark...

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