Franz Kline

1910 – 1962

American Abstract Expressionist painter, born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Studied painting in the Art Department, Boston University (1931-5) and at Heatherley’s School in London (1937-8), then settled in New York. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Kline worked figuratively, painting landscapes and cityscapes, as views of New York in the tradition of Sloan and Glackens, in addition to commissioned portraits and murals.

Some of his works from c.1946 were abstract or had a Cubist structure and in 1950 he began to make vigorous large-scale calligraphic abstract paintings in black and white. Kline had his breakthrough show at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1950, where he exhibited the dramatic black and white paintings that would become his signature style. Instead of focusing on representation, Kline emphasized the expressive potential of gestural brushwork. He painted these works with large housepainter’s brushes to achieve a sense of spontaneous and energetic immediacy. Kline’s gestural aesthetic quickly earned him the label of an “action painter” and he achieved recognition as one of the members of the emerging Abstract Expressionist movement and just from 1958 he introduced strong colours into some of his works.

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).