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Franz Kline - Important Art

American Painter

Franz Kline Photo
Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting

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

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

Important Art by Franz Kline

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)

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.

Chief (1950)

Chief (1950)

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.

Four Square (1956)

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.

Meryon (1960)

Meryon has a strong architectonic sense in its composition. The inspiration was possibly an engraving of a clock tower by the 19th-century French artist Charles Meryon. Again, Kline represents not the object itself, but his vision of it. Seemingly spontaneous in its arrangement, this composition was conceived through a number of preliminary studies, shedding a new light on the nature of his gestural technique.

Black Reflection (1956)

Black Reflection is an example of Kline's early attempts at introducing color back into his works. The treatment of color in this composition could be related to the contemporary paintings of Willem de Kooning and Hans Hofmann. The focal point of this picture is the black shape that Kline previously employed in the Untitled composition of 1954. This fact further attests to the careful consideration the Action Painting artists devoted to the pictorial forms in their compositions.

Probst I (1960)

Probst I refers to Jack Probst, a fellow artist who lived near Kline in Greenwich Village. At first glance, this composition is typical of his black and white work. However, more colors are present on this canvas. There are dabs of yellow and pale salmon that illuminate the massiveness of black twisted shapes, creating warm luminous effects. Probst I is an example of Kline's late work where he returned to employing a wider palette.

Related Artists and Major Works

Woman III (1951-53)

By: Willem de Kooning

Woman III belongs to the series of Women paintings de Kooning showed at the Sidney Janis Gallery to much outrage and controversy within the art world. The surface of the canvas is covered in thick swathes of energetic, vertical, and horizontal gestures of creamy and silvery hues. From this frantic surface, the figure of a wide-eyed, large-breasted woman emerges. She sports blond hair and a big smile. The compactness of the figure gives the sense of the body being squeezed or constrained, but at the same time, its gestural quality gives it a sense of wound-up energy. The slight tapering of the figure towards the knees and ankles is reminiscent of prehistoric figurines and Cycladic idols, precedents of the importance of the female form in art to which de Kooning often alluded. Importantly, de Kooning blends the figure and ground together, making it difficult to discern where one begins and ends, hence the woman both dissolves into and emerges from the background, an effect that de Kooning termed "no-environment." In the Women paintings from the early 1950s, we begin to see the ways in which body and landscape will merge in his later paintings.

The theme of women was one that de Kooning returned to regularly. Some cited his rocky relationship with his wife, his estranged relationship with his mother, and his penchant for womanizing as the source for the subject. Some went so far to say that de Kooning must hate women because, in this instance, he used smears of red paint to depict three bullet holes across her chest, but de Kooning responded to the accusation by saying, "I thought it was rubies." Elaine de Kooning clarified, explaining, "The bullet holes, be it known, are very chic rubies which stick to the skin unaided or abetted by pins or chains - a device de Kooning saw in Harper's Bazaar and never forgot."

While critics may have projected their own anxieties and misogynist tendencies onto the pictures, they missed the ways in which de Kooning engaged with and incorporated popular, consumer culture in his paintings. He often spoke of his women as being funny and larger than life, satirizing the shopping denizens of department stores and the fashionable ladies who paraded down Madison Avenue. He may have looked to ancient idols and classical odalisques, but de Kooning was equally intrigued with pin-up girls and movie stars. He was one of the only Abstract Expressionists to take on such subject matter, and for this reason he became an important touchstone for younger artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, and later Pop Artists.

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (1950)

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (1950)

By: Jackson Pollock

While only one painting from Pollock's 1950 solo exhibition was actually sold, the show gained much attention. It was described by Art News as one of the three best exhibitions of the year, and Cecil Beaton staged a famous fashion shoot in the exhibition space, which subsequently appeared in Vogue. Autumn Rhythm was one of the major works which appeared in that show. As with many of Pollock's paintings, he began it with a linear framework of diluted black paint which in many areas soaked through the unprimed canvas. Over this he applied more skeins of paint in various colors - lines thick and thin, light and dark, straight and curved, horizontal and vertical. As the title suggests, the coloring, horizontal orientation, and sense of ground and space in Autumn Rhythm are strongly evocative of nature. The balance between control and chance that Pollock maintained throughout his working process produced compositions that can have as much calm tranquillity as some works by Rothko.

Embrace (1932)

By: John Graham

Here, the interlocking shapes have been further simplified, but they are no longer hard-edged. Rather, their curves draw influence from Surrealism's biomorphic forms; further, the circles suggest eyes, and the title of the work seems to imply that it depicts two figures in an embrace. Even so, the canvas is highly abstract and completely two-dimensional. The heavier buildup of paint also prefigures the importance of material and surface in Abstract Expressionist painting.


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