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  Franz Kline Biography

Franz Kline Biography

born Wilkes-Barre, PA (USA) 1910 died New York, NY (USA) 1962

"You paint the way you have to in order to give. That's life itself, and someone will look and say it is the product of knowing, but it has noting to do with knowing, it has to do with giving."
-- Franz Kline

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. Began by painting views of New York in the tradition of Sloan and Glackens, and also portraits and seated figures. Some of his works from c.1946 were abstract or had a Cubist structure; began in 1950 to make vigorous large-scale calligraphic abstract paintings in black and white. His first one-man exhibition at the Egan Gallery, New York, in 1950 quickly led to his recognition as one of the leading Abstract Expressionists. From 1958 he introduced strong colours into some of his works. Died in New York.

Kline's best known abstract expressionist paintings are in black and white. Kline re-introduced color into his paintings around 1955. Although he used color in many of his most important paintings more consistently after 1959. Kline's paintings are deceptively subtle. While generally his paintings have a dynamic, spontaneous and dramatic impact, it is interesting to learn how closely Kline referred to his compositional drawings. Kline carefully rendered many of his most complex pictures from studies. There seems to be references to Japanese calligraphy in Kline's black and white paintings, although he always denied that connection. Bridges, tunnels, buildings, engines, railroads and other architectural and industrial icons are often mentioned as sources of Kline's inspiration.

Kline's most recognizable method/style derives from a suggestion made to him by his friend Willem De Kooning. In 1948, de Kooning suggested to an artistically frustrated Kline to bring in a sketch and project it with a Bell Opticon opaque projector he had at his studio. 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."

Kline created paintings in the style of what he saw that day throughout his life. In 1950, he exhibited many works in this style at the Charles Egan Gallery.

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  • Black, White, Brown, 1959-1960
  • Untitled (teapot still life), 1944-1945
  • Harleman, 1960
  • Portrait of a Woman, 1939
  • Untitled (Study for Wanamaker Block)


  • "Now, Bonnard at times seems styleless. Someone said of him that he had the rare ability to forget from one day to another what he had done. He added the next day's experience to it, like a child following a balloon."
  • "If you're a painter, you're not alone. There's no way to be alone."
  • "The final test of a painting, theirs, mine, any other, is: does the painter's emotions come across?"
  • "The nature of anguish is translated into different forms."


  • Franz Kline (1910-1962) - by David Anfam, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Skira (December 14, 2004)

Quick Facts

  • Franz Kline (May 23, 1910 - May 13, 1962) was an American painter mainly associated with the Abstract Expressionism
  • As with Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, he was labelled an "action painter" because of his seemingly spontaneous and intense style, focusing less, or not at all, on figures or imagery, but on the actual brush strokes and use of canvas.
  • Kline's best known abstract expressionist paintings are in black and white.
  • A leading figure at the Cedar Bar, the Abstract Expressionists' downtown hangout in New York, he was also a companion of the literary beats, especially of Jack Kerouac.


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 Franz Kline

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