Franz Kline

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Franz Kline
Kline no2.jpg
Painting Number 2, 1954,
The Museum of Modern Art
Born Franz Jozef Kline
(1910-05-23)May 23, 1910
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Died May 13, 1962(1962-05-13) (aged 51)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Education Boston University
Known for Abstract painting
Movement Abstract expressionism, action painting

Franz Jozef Kline (May 23, 1910 – May 13, 1962) was an American painter mainly associated with the abstract expressionist movement centered on New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and attended Girard College, an academy in Philadelphia for fatherless boys. He attended Boston University, and later taught at a number of institutions including Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.[1] He spent summers from 1956 to 1962 painting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and died in New York City of a rheumatic heart disease.

He was married to Elizabeth Vincent Parsons, a British ballet dancer.

Style and process[edit]

As with Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, Kline was labeled an "action painter" because of his seemingly spontaneous and intense style, focusing less, or not at all, on figures or imagery, but on the actual brush strokes and use of canvas. Throughout the 1930s Kline created pieces with slightly abstracted forms which used quick, rudimentary strokes to depict movement. From this point onward, he developed a more abstract, non-representative style for which he is known today. Although most of Kline's [mature and representative] work may seem impulsive and unplanned, as the phrase goes, "spontaneity is practiced". He would prepare many draft sketches—notably, commonly on refuse telephone book pages—before going to make his "spontaneous" work.[2]

Black and white and color[edit]

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Kline worked figuratively, painting landscapes and cityscapes in addition to commissioned portraits and murals. Kline's best known abstract expressionist paintings, however, are in black and white.

Kline re-introduced color into his paintings around 1955, though he used color more consistently after 1959. Kline's paintings are deceptively subtle. While generally his paintings have a dynamic, spontaneous, and dramatic impact, Kline often closely referred to his compositional drawings. Kline carefully rendered many of his most complex pictures from studies. There seem to be references to Japanese calligraphy in Kline's black and white paintings, although he always denied that connection.[3] Bridges, tunnels, buildings, engines, railroads, and other architectural and industrial icons are often suggested as imagery informing Kline's work.

Kline's most recognizable method/style derives from a suggestion made to him by his friend Willem de Kooning. In 1948, de Kooning suggested to an artistically frustrated Kline to bring in a sketch and project it with a Bell Opticon opaque projector he had at his studio. Kline described the projection as such:

"A four by five inch black drawing of a rocking chair...loomed in gigantic black strokes which eradicated any image, the strokes expanding as entities in themselves, unrelated to any entity but that of their own existence."

Drawing was an essential element in Kline's process, and he would return over and again to forms first sketched on the pages of telephone books, structures that provided the basis of his essays in black and white.[4] He created paintings in the style of what he saw that day throughout his life. In 1950 he exhibited many works in this style at the Charles Egan Gallery. In the later 1950s such paintings as Requiem (1958) added a third type of work to his repertory, by allowing the previously clearcut monochrome divisions to merge into a more complex chiaroscuro. From 1958 he introduced strong colors into some of his works;[5] from 1959 to 1961, Kline executed a sequence of exceptionally large works, known as the "wall paintings".[6]


Kline had his breakthrough show at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1950, and he participated in the 9th Street Art Exhibition the following year. In 1958 he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition, "The New American Painting", which toured eight European cities.[7] In the decade before his death, his work was included in numerous international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (1956, 1960); Documenta, Kassel, West Germany (1959); São Paulo Biennial (1957); and Whitney Annuals and Biennials (1952, 1953, 1955, 1961). The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C., organized a memorial exhibition (1962). Major monographic exhibitions have also been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1968); Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (1979); Cincinnati Art Museum, travelling to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1985); Menil Collection, Houston (1994); Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (1994); and Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’arte contemporanea, Italy (2004).[8]


Art historian David Anfam notes that Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Mark di Suvero, and Brice Marden have all called Kline an inspiration.[9]

Art market[edit]

In 2012 San Francisco financier George R. Roberts sold a nearly ten-foot wide, untitled black-and-white work from 1957 at Christie's, New York; the painting went to a telephone bidder for $36 million, or $40.4 million with fees (Christie’s guaranteed the seller Robert Mnuchin an undisclosed minimum),[10] a record price for the artist at auction and more than six times the previous record, which was set in 2005 when Christie’s sold Crow Dancer (1958) for $6.4 million.[11] Kline has no catalogue raisonné. As a consequence, the trade in Kline forgeries is extensive, and there have been a lot of Klines offered by major auction houses that are considered questionable by art historians.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Franz Kline Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  2. ^ "Kline, Franz". Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  3. ^ F. Kline, quoted in S. Rodman, "Revolution in Paint: Franz Kline," Franz Kline: 1910-1962, exh. cat., Milan, 2004, p. 110.
  4. ^ Franz Kline, Untitled (1955) Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 November 2012, New York.
  5. ^ Franz Kline Tate, London.
  6. ^ Franz Kline Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  7. ^ Franz Kline Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  8. ^ Franz Kline Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection, New York.
  9. ^ Michael Kimmelman (December 16, 1994), The Kline Puzzle: A Definite Classic Long Neglected New York Times.
  10. ^ Katya Kazakina (November 15, 2012), Jeff Koons, Franz Kline Set Records at Christie’s Sale Bloomberg.
  11. ^ Carol Vogel (November 14, 2012), Relentless Bidding, and Record Prices, for Contemporary Art at Christie’s Auction New York Times.

Further reading[edit]

  • ed. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, et al. Franz Kline (1910–1962) (Skira) (ISBN 88-7624-141-8)
  • Harry F. Gaugh Franz Kline (Abbeville Press)

External links[edit]