Franz Kline – An Abstract Expressionist Painter

Franz Josef Kline or Franz Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on May 23, 1910. Franz Kline was the second of his four siblings, and was named after an Austrian Emperor, by his father, Anthony, and mother, Anne E. Kline. In 1917, at the tender age of seven, his father committed suicide and after three years, his mother remarried. On March 21, 1919, Kline was admitted to Girard College in Philadelphia, which was also an orphanage. As a teenager, he drew sketches on drawing pads, after his class. In the year 1931-32, Franz left home, enrolled himself at the Boston University, and attended classes at Boston Art Students League. In 1935, the artist moved to the United Kingdom to study art and enrolled at the Heatherley’s School of Fine Arts, London. Here he met his future wife, Elizabeth Vincent Parsons, a British ballet dancer.

In the U.K., Franz Kline was inspired by the painting styles of Rembrandt, Hokusai, and Charles Keene, an English caricaturist of the 19th Century. Most of Kline’s works had an ‘Expressionist’ undertone. The artist came back to the US in 1938, and settled permanently in New York, where he initially worked as a window display artist for women’s clothing store. During 1943-44, Kline displayed his work at the annual exhibitions of the conservative, National Academy of Design and won major prizes. The same year, he met Willem de Kooning who influenced him in many ways and introduced abstraction in his art. Owing to this, he got associated with the ‘Abstract Expressionist’ painters in and around New York.

In addition, Franz’s interest in music and ballet helped him pick up and understand the nuances of “Abstract Art” easily. By the year 1949, the figurative subject matter of his formative years metamorphosed into abstraction. Franz Kline had a very spontaneous style of painting, which was on display in two of his works, a “Self-portrait Sketch” & “Studio Interior,” in 1946. In the year 1947, Kline experimented with abstract, two-dimensional flat shapes with “The Dancer.” Some of the Kline’s best ‘Abstract Expressionist’ works are done in black & white for e.g., “The Bridge” in 1955, “Mahoning” in 1956, and “Riverbed” & “Caboose” in 1961.

Most of the works by Franz Kline have Asian influence, especially Chinese Calligraphy and had a trademark ‘black & white’ grid. Franz Kline passed away in a hospital on May 13, 1962 in New York due to rheumatic heart problems, which had weakened his heart muscles over the period.