Around 1950, Franz Kline radically simplified painting: “Instead of making a sign you can read, you make a sign you can’t read.”
Born in the coal mining areas of Western Pennsylvania, his father died when he was a boy and he spent part of his childhood in boarding school. He traveled to England to study art in the late 1930s and acquired knowledge of European masters from Rembrandt to Manet. He returned to The United States and settled with his first wife Elizabeth Vincent Parsons in New York in 1938.
Some of his earliest drawings indicate a careful observation of Italian Renaissance draftsmanship, and some paintings explore the light of interiors in the mode of Vermeer. In the 1940s, he began to spend time regularly at the Cedar Bar where the artistic community met and he became a close friend of fellow artist de Kooning.
Around 1947, Kline shifted from realism to gestural compositions. In 1949-50 he developed to his signature style – large, iconic and minimal in black and white. His first solo show was at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York in 1950. He was amongst the founders of the Artists Club in 1949 and an initiator and organizer of the renowned Ninth Street Show (1951). By 1955, when his work was included in a group show at the Whitney Museum, he was acclaimed as one of the most important artists of Abstract Expressionism.
In the mid-1950s Kline reintroduced color into his black and white palette, initially in accents and embedded beneath black, then using increasingly broad segments. In the decade preceding his death just before his fifty-second birthday in 1962, his work was included in group exhibitions such as The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1955), 12 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1956), and the traveling exhibition The New American Painting (1958), organized by the International Program of the Museum of Modern Art, and touring to Basel, Milan, Madrid, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London.