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Franz Kline Photo

Franz Kline

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting

Born: May 23, 1910 - Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Died: May 13, 1962 - New York, New York

Franz Kline Timeline

"The final test of a painting, theirs, mine, any other, is: does the painter's emotion come across?"

Franz Kline Signature

Summary of Franz Kline

American Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline is best known for large black and white paintings bearing abstract motifs set down with strident confidence. He started out as a realist with a fluent style that he perfected during an academic training that encouraged him to admire Old Masters such as Rembrandt. But after settling in New York and meeting Willem de Kooning, he began to evolve his signature abstract approach. By the end of his life he had achieved immense international recognition, and his unusual approach to gestural abstraction was beginning to influence the ideas of many Minimalists.

Key Ideas

Franz Kline is most famous for his black and white abstractions, which have been likened variously to New York's cityscape, the landscape of his childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, and Japanese calligraphy.
The poet and curator Frank O'Hara saw Kline as the quintessential 'action painter', and Kline's black and white paintings certainly helped establish gestural abstraction as an important tendency within Abstract Expressionism. Yet Kline saw his method less as a means to express himself than as a way to create a physical engagement with the viewer.
The powerful forms of his motifs, and their impression of velocity, were intended to translate into an experience of structure and presence which the viewer could almost palpably feel. Along with De Kooning and Pollock, Kline was one of the examplary artists heralded in Harold Rosenberg's definition of Action Painting.
Kline's reluctance to attribute hidden meanings to his pictures was important in recommending his work to a later generation of Minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd and Richard Serra.
Franz Kline Photo

Franz Kline was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining community that offered few opportunities for artistic development. His childhood was marred by a complicated relationship with his parents. His father, a saloon keeper, committed suicide in 1917, when Kline was only seven years old. His mother later remarried and sent her son to an institution for fatherless boys, which the artist referred to as "the orphanage."

Important Art by Franz Kline Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Franz Kline - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Painting No. 7 (1952)
Artwork Images Google images

Painting No. 7 (1952)

Artwork description & Analysis: Unlike his friends Pollock and de Kooning, Kline never experimented with figurative elements in his mature work. Painting No.7 is a fine example of his black and white pictures. The rigid geometry of broad black lines defines the composition, perhaps manifesting his reconsideration of the iconic paintings of squares by Kazimir Malevich.

Oil on canvas - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Chief (1950)
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Chief (1950)

Artwork description & Analysis: Critics' comments on the pictures included in Kline's breakthrough show of 1950 set the pattern for later reviews with their variety of analogies. Chief was the name of a locomotive Kline remembered from his childhood, and it's possible to read the image as a sensory reminiscence of its power, sound and steaming engine. Some also believed that the artist's obsession with black was connected to his childhood spent in a coal-mining community dominated by heavy industry. Many have since noted, however, that the forms in these early abstractions seem to have evolved from Kline's drawings of his wife Elizabeth. He made numerous sketches of her sitting in a rocking chair in the years when she began to succumb to mental illness; the circular forms in Chief bear comparison with the blank circles representing her face in the drawings.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Four Square (1956)
Artwork Images Google images

Four Square (1956)

Artwork description & Analysis: Four Square is another example of Kline's experimentation with angular compositions. Although apparently structured in its compositional rigidness, Four Square is a fine example of his gestural approach to painting. The viewer is led to ponder the canvas, seeing as either a close-up of a linguistic symbol or, perhaps, a set of open windows. In this work Kline is also attempting to construct a three-dimensional abstract composition, whereas most of the Abstract Expressionists preferred the two- dimensional treatment of the pictorial surface. Kline achieves the visual effect of depth through energetic juxtapositions of vertical and horizontal lines and their diagonal overlapping.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

More Franz Kline Artwork and Analysis:

Meryon (1960) Black Reflection (1956) Probst I (1960)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Franz Kline
Interactive chart with Franz Kline's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
John GrahamJohn Graham
David SmithDavid Smith

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.Alfred H. Barr, Jr.

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
Japanese CalligraphyJapanese Calligraphy
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Years Worked: 1930 - 1962
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Cy TwomblyCy Twombly
Donald JuddDonald Judd
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Richard SerraRichard Serra

Personal Contacts

Robert CreeleyRobert Creeley
Allen GinsbergAllen Ginsberg
Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Andrew WyethAndrew Wyeth

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism
Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 21 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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