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Franz Kline

Franz Kline (May 23, 1910 – May 13, 1962) was an American painter born in Pennsylvania. He is mainly associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Kline, along with other action painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Lee Krasner, as well as local poets, dancers, and musicians came to be known as the informal group, the New York School. Although he explored the same innovations to painting as the other artists in this group, Kline's work is distinct in itself and has been revered since the 1950s.[4]


  • Biography 1
  • Artistic development 2
    • Early work 2.1
  • Early life 3
    • Childhood 3.1
    • Later work 3.2
  • Interpretation and influence 4
    • Marine Corps 4.1
  • Art market 5
  • Exhibitions 6
  • Adult life and early crimes 7
    • Defection to the Soviet Union 7.1
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Franz Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre, a small coal-mining community in Eastern Pennsylvania. When he was seven years old, Kline's father committed suicide. His mother later remarried and sent him to Girard College, an academy in Philadelphia for fatherless boys. After graduation from high school, Kline studied art at Boston University from 1931 to 1935, then spent a year in England attending the Heatherly's School of Art in London. During this time, he met his future wife, Elizabeth V. Parsons, a British ballet dancer. She returned to the United States with Kline in 1938.[6]

Upon his return to the country, Kline worked as a designer for a department store in New York state. He then moved to New York City in 1939 and worked for a scenic designer. It was during this time in New York that Kline developed his artistic techniques and gained recognition as a significant artist.[8]

He later taught at a number of institutions including Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.[9] He spent summers from 1956 to 1962 painting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and died in 1962 in New York City of a rheumatic heart disease.[12]

Artistic development

Early work

Kline's artistic training focused on traditional illustrating and drafting, so during the late 1930s and early 1940s Kline worked figuratively, painting landscapes and cityscapes in addition to commissioned portraits and murals. His individual style can be first seen in the mural series Hot Jazz, which he painted for a New York bar in 1940. The series revealed his interest in breaking down representative forms into quick, rudimentary brushstrokes.

The personal style he developed during this time using simplified forms became increasingly more abstract. Many of the figures he depicted would be based on the locomotives, stark landscapes, and large mechanical shapes of his native, coal-mining community in Pennsylvania. This is sometimes only apparent to viewers because the pieces are named after those places and objects, not because they actually look like the subject.[20] With the influence of the contemporary New York art scene, Kline worked further into abstraction and eventually left these representative figures in the past. From the late 1940s onward, Kline began generalizing his figurative subjects into lines and planes which fit together much like the works of cubism of the time.[22]

Later work

It is widely believed that Kline's most recognizable style derived from a suggestion made to him by his friend and creative influence, Willem de Kooning. A romanticized interpretation of events by Elaine de Kooning described how in 1948, Willem de Kooning advised an artistically-frustrated Kline to bring in a sketch to his studio and project it onto a wall with a Bell-Opticon projector.[24] 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."[26]

As Elaine de Kooning suggests, it was then that Kline dedicated himself to large-scale, abstract works. Over the next two years, Kline's brushstrokes became completely non-representative, fluid, and dynamic. It was also at this time that Kline began only painting in black and white. He explains how his monochrome palette is meant to depict negative and positive space by saying, “I paint the white as well as the black, and the white is just as important.”[28] His use of black and white is very similar to paintings made by de Kooning and Pollock during the 1940s.[30] There also seem to be references to Japanese calligraphy in Kline's black and white paintings, although he always denied that connection.[31]

In the later 1950s, Kline began experimenting with more complex chiaroscuro instead of focusing on a strict, monochromatic palette in such paintings as Requiem (1958). Then in 1958, he reintroduced the use of color in his work through colorful accents in his black and white paintings. This exploration back to color-use was still in development when Kline died in 1962.[34]

Interpretation and influence

Franz Kline is recognized as one of the most important yet problematic artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York. His style is difficult for critics to interpret in relation to his contemporaries.[39] As with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and other Abstract Expressionists, Kline was said to be demonstrating action painting because of his seemingly spontaneous and intense style, focusing not at all on figures or imagery, but on the expression of his brushstrokes and use of canvas. However, Kline's paintings are deceptively subtle. While generally his paintings have a spontaneous, and dramatic impact, Kline often closely referred to his compositional drawings. Kline carefully rendered many of his most complex pictures from extensive studies commonly created on refuse telephone book pages. Unlike his fellow abstract expressionists, Kline's works were only meant to look like they were done in a moment of inspiration, however each painting was extensively explored before his housepainter's brush touched his canvases.[48]

Franz Kline was also known for avoiding giving meaning to his paintings, unlike his colleagues who would give mystical descriptions of their works.[52] In a catalog of Kline's works, art historian Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev writes that "his art both suggests and denies significance and meaning."[56] Many of his works have been viewed by art historians as indications of a progression towards minimalist painting. They believe that his works hold an objective opacity and frankness that differs from the subjectivity involved with the New York School's style. This would make his work more similar to the avant-garde platforms like minimalism that replaced the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1960s.[62]

Art historian David Anfam notes that artists working during Kline's life and after such as Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Mark di Suvero, and Brice Marden have all called Kline an inspiration.[63]

Art market

In 2012 San Francisco financier 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),[64] 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.[65]

An early work, UNTITLED, from 1940 (of an interior room) was purchased from Sotheby's in 1995 by a private collector for $21,850.[66] This early piece helps to define his early phase, before his transformation from a realist painter to a groundbreaking abstract expressionist. The painting's bold brushstrokes prefigure the epic black abstraction of his breakthrough style.


Kline had his breakthrough show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1968); Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (1979); Cincinnati Art Museum, traveling 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).[78]

See also


  1. ^ Lee Oswald claiming innocence (film),
  2. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 20, p. 366, Kantor Exhibit No. 3—Handwritten notes made by Seth Kantor concerning events surrounding the assassination
  3. ^ John F. Kennedy, Dallas Police Department Collection
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Franz Kline Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  10. ^
  11. ^ House Select Committee on Assassinations Final Report, pp. 65-75.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 23, p. 799, CE 1963, Schedule showing known addresses of Lee Harvey Oswald from the time of his birth.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ F. Kline, quoted in S. Rodman, "Revolution in Paint: Franz Kline," Franz Kline: 1910-1962, exh. cat., Milan, 2004, p. 110.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 22, p. 687, CE 1382, Interview with Mrs. John Edward Pic.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald.
  37. ^ Carro Exhibit No. 1 Continued at Kennedy Assassination Home Page.
  38. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, Testimony of John Carro.
  39. ^
  40. ^ a b c d
  41. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, CE 2240, FBI transcript of letter from Lee Oswald to the Socialist Party of America, October 3, 1956.
  42. ^ Oswald, David Ferrie and the Civil Air Patrol, United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, vol. 9, 4, p. 107.
  43. ^ Testimony of Edward Voebel, Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 8, pp. 10, 12.
  44. ^ Summers, Anthony. Not in Your Lifetime, (New York: Marlowe & Company, 1998), p. 235. ISBN 1-56924-739-0
  45. ^ Oswald, David Ferrie and the Civil Air Patrol, House Select Committee on Assassinations - Appendix to Hearings, Volume 9, 4, pp. 107-115.
  46. ^ Summers 1998, p. 234.
  47. ^ PBS Frontline "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald", broadcast on PBS stations, November 1993 (various dates).
  48. ^
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^ Bob Goodman, Triangle of Fire (Laquerian Publishing Co., 1993).
  51. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 19, Folsom Exhibit No. 1, p. 665, Administrative Remarks.
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Gerald Posner "Case Closed" Random House, New York, 1993 pg. 28
  55. ^ Affidavit of James Botelho
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^ Testimony of John E. Donovan, Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 8, pp. 290-298.
  59. ^ Summers 1998, p. 94.
  60. ^ Summers 1998, pp. 94, 99.
  61. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 19, Folsom Exhibit No. 1, p. 85, Request for Dependency Discharge.
  62. ^
  63. ^ Michael Kimmelman (December 16, 1994), The Kline Puzzle: A Definite Classic Long Neglected New York Times.
  64. ^ Katya Kazakina (November 15, 2012), Jeff Koons, Franz Kline Set Records at Christie’s Sale Bloomberg.
  65. ^ Carol Vogel (November 14, 2012), Relentless Bidding, and Record Prices, for Contemporary Art at Christie’s Auction New York Times.
  66. ^ (Sotheby's receipt retained)
  67. ^ Franz Kline Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
  68. ^
  69. ^ Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia, The Journey From USA to USSR at Russian Books
  70. ^ a b c Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 16, p. 94, CE 24, Lee Harvey Oswald's "Historic Diary", entries of October 16, 1959 to October 21, 1959.
  71. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 16, p. 95, CE 24, Lee Harvey Oswald's "Historic Diary", entries of October 21, 1959 to October 28, 1959.
  72. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 16, p. 96, CE 24, Lee Harvey Oswald's "Historic Diary", entries of October 28, 1959 to October 31, 1959.
  73. ^ Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia, Moscow Part 1 at Russian Books
  74. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 18, p. 108, CE 912, Declaration of Lee Harvey Oswald, dated November 3, 1959, requesting that his U.S. citizenship be revoked.
  75. ^ a b "Texas Marine Gives Up U.S. For Russia", The Miami News, October 31, 1959, p1
  76. ^ Foreign Service Dispatch from the American Embassy in Moscow to the Department of State, Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 18, p. 98, CE 908
  77. ^ Warren Commission Hearings, CE 780, Documents from Lee Harvey Oswald's Marine Corps file.
  78. ^

Further reading

  • Elaine de Kooning, "Franz Kline: Painter of His Own Life", ARTnews, Volume 61, November 1962
  • Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, (New York School Press, 2003.) ISBN 0-9677994-1-4. p. 186-189
  • Marika Herskovic, New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000.) ISBN 0-9677994-0-6. p. 8; p. 12; p. 16; p. 25; p. 37; p. 202-205
  • 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

  • Comprehensive catalog project
  • David Anfam, Bio notes, MoMA Collection
  • Franz Kline on the Artchive
  • Phillips Collection bio
  • Untitled 1957 at the Phillips Collection
  • Photo at Findagrave

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