Untitled, c. 1957-1958
ink on collaged phone book pages, mounted on canvas,
signed "Kline" lower right.
11 x 14 inches
A major figure in Abstract Expressionism, Franz Kline has become one of the blue-chip artists of Contemporary Art. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1910 and studied painting and drawing at Boston University before moving to London to study illustration and drafting at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. In 1939 he moved from London to New York City, where he exhibited interiors and cityscapes painted in a representational style. These works were characterized by calligraphic, rapid brushwork which reflected the frenetic rhythms of urban life. His output at the time included portraits and murals commissioned for the Cedar Tavern, the famous locus for Abstract Expressionists and Beat poets.
In 1946 Kline began to generalize his subjects into series of lines and planes. These linear abstractions brought him significant public attention in 1950 when they were shown in New York City, and he became one of the most prominent painters of the post-World War II Abstract Expressionist movement.
By the mid-1940s representationalism gave way to more abstracted forms in Kline’s work, a process notably catalyzed through the influence of Willem de Kooning, who magnified Kline’s ink drawings with a projector so as to emphasize the dramatic gesture of the brushstrokes. Enlarging the dynamic qualities of his sketches to a monumental scale, Kline continued to work primarily in black and white, using house-painter’s brushes. The ensuing canvases were inspired by the contemporary New York scene.
Kline taught at The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and was an influential presence for the subsequent generation of Abstract Expressionist artists.
In his letter, Stephen Foster notes “Although the piece is undated, the work is clearly representative of work from the mid- to late-fifties, in terms of its overall composition and structural economy. The piece is executed with confidence and sureness and shows no sign of contrivance or hesitation. Part of a ‘family’ of works, the piece invites fairly close comparison to other of Kline’s works on paper which, reiterate a ‘structural theme’ that run through his works of the period. The work confidently reflects a trajectory in Kline’s work that was defining and foundational.”
Special thanks to Stephen Foster, Kline scholar and curator of Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity, for his review and assistance in cataloging this lot.