Art: Prisoner of the Seraglio

Women enchanted the brush of Botticelli. Da Vinci is famous for one female smile, Whistler for his mother. Degas captured girlishness from gawky grace to the glamorous fall from it. "So why is it unusual that I paint women?" asks Willem de Kooning, at 60 the foremost U.S. artist still working vigorously in the abstract expressionist idiom.

Women they are, but none of De Kooning's Venuses are ever likely to be zephyred toward shore on a half shell, though it is just possible some of them might have been pushed off a 40-story building. When...

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