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Franz Kline

Franz Kline, Black Sienna, 1960 Oil on canvas, 92 ¼ × 68 inches (234.3 × 172.7 cm)

Franz Kline, Black Sienna, 1960

Oil on canvas, 92 ¼ × 68 inches (234.3 × 172.7 cm)


Franz Kline used stark tonal contrasts and variations of scale to explore gestural movement in his Abstract Expressionist paintings. The early abstract work of friend and colleague Willem de Kooning had a deep impact on Kline, who began working as a painter in New York in the late 1930s. Moving away from figurative representation, Kline experimented with projecting small, abstract ink sketches onto his studio wall, enlarging nuanced brush strokes to mural-sized cyphers. These early exercises would inspire the large, black-and-white gestural paintings that became Kline’s legacy. He developed a painting practice that rejected many conventions of the medium: working at night under harsh lighting to bring out the tonal play between black and white and applying both oil and enamel with house-painting brushes created textural inconsistencies and left a record of the artist’s movement. Though contemporary critics often credited the influence of Japanese calligraphy (a reading that the artist consistently denied), the sweeping vectors that dominate Kline’s thickly painted canvases convey the emotion embedded in the act of painting itself.

Franz Kline (b. 1910, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; d. 1962, New York) studied at Boston University and at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London, before settling in New York. His work was included in the groundbreaking exhibition The New American Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1958, traveled to Basel, Milan, Madrid, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London). Major solo exhibitions have been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1968), the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (1979), Cincinnati Art Museum (1985), the Menil Collection, Houston (1994), Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (1994), and Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2004).