© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Trained as a commercial artist, de Kooning moved easily between figurative and abstract modes. Though his later canvases would come to epitomize the vigorous gestural style of the abstract expressionist movement, his early work reveals the influence of Joan Miró’s biomorphic, surrealist works. In the 1930s, as this work demonstrates, de Kooning began to paint more sparely, depicting fewer elements dispersed over fields of color. This approach is also evident in the studies he made for the mural division of the Federal Art Project, where he worked with other artists who would dominate the avant-garde at mid-century in America. The suggestive forms that emerge from de Kooning’s organic abstraction, like the inkblots of a Rorschach test, may have inspired the painting’s playful title, pulled from a well-known children’s nonsense rhyme.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Willem de Kooning, American (Rotterdam, Netherlands 1904 - 1997 East Hampton, NY)
Untitled (The Cow Jumps Over the Moon)
Work Type
Level 1, Room 1310, Modern and Contemporary Art, Surrealism
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on masonite
52 x 93 cm (20 1/2 x 36 5/8 in.)
frame: 71 x 112 x 5 cm (27 15/16 x 44 1/8 x 1 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.r.: de Kooning
  • (not assigned): No opportunity to inspect back as yet.
Willem de Kooning; to Martin Craig, New York, New York, (c. 1938 - 1958), sold; to Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Coltrera, Brooklyn, New York (through [Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, New York]), sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2007.

NOTE: Per a letter in the curatorial file the work was a trade between de Kooning and Martin Craig.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, Class of 1907, by exchange
© The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Willem de Kooning: Garden in Delft, exh. cat., Mitchell-Innes & Nash (2004), pp. 13-14, repr. p. 25 (plate 2), pp. 26-27 (detail)

Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., BA-CV Kunstforum (Vienna, 2005), p. 45, 49, cat. 1, ill. p. 44

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7 (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 21, ill.

John Elderfield and Lauren Mahony, de Kooning: A Retrospective, exh. cat., ed. David Frankel, The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY, 2011), pp. 109, 113, 115-116, cat. 28, pl. 28, ill.

Terry Winters, Depth Charge: Terry Winters Talks with John Elderfield about De Kooning, Artforum (New York, 2011), XLIX, No. 10, pp. 328-335, p. 330, ill.

Exhibition History

De Kooning: A Retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 09/18/2011 - 01/09/2012

32Q: 1310 Surrealism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu