- Franz Kline
- signed and inscribed Egan Gallery N.Y.C. on the reverse; titled on the overlap
- oil on canvas
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Professor Philip Finkelpearl, Cambridge, MA
Mrs. Gustave Klimann, Beverly, MA
Sotheby's, New York, May 4, 1987, lot 21
Acquired by the present owner from the above
New York, Egan Gallery, Franz Kline, October - November 1950
Boston, Joan Peterson Gallery, 1962
Providence, Bell Art Gallery, List Art Center, Brown University, Homage to Franz Kline, September - October 1976
Exh. Cat., Barcelona, Fundació Antoni Tàpies (and travelling), Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity, 1994, cat. no. 13, p. 71, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection (and travelling), Franz Kline: Black & White 1950-1961, 1994, fig. 6, p. 18, illustrated
Libby Lumpkin, ed., The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art: Impressionist and Modern Masters, Las Vegas, 1998, p. 191, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Franz Kline: 1910-1962, 2004, p. 65, illustrated in color
Giselle was one of the eleven landmark paintings included in Franz Kline’s first solo exhibition at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York City in 1950, an event noted on this canvas by the artist’s inscription of Egan Gallery N.Y.C. beneath his signature on the reverse. It was at this show that younger contemporaries such as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly were first highly affected by Kline’s work and subsequently, by 1952 would find themselves working together at Black Mountain College; a critical year that would eventually mark the shift towards a new aesthetic away from abstract expressionism in both young artist’s work.
Within the New York school of Abstract Expressionism of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the work of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock emerged from European modernism. In contrast, Kline’s work sprang forth at the turn of the decade independent of the influence of Cubism or Surrealism. He quickly established a signature style marked by bold black and white brushstrokes, applied with vigor and apparent spontaneity, and had also abandoned his figurative and landscape works of the 1930s and early 1940s. As David Anfam notes, "The hallmark of what Kline initiated in 1950 is its freshness. The art remains as free of dogma and pretension as the man himself. In this respect Kline doubtless influenced a younger generation" (Exh. Cat., Houston, Menil Collection, Franz Kline: Black and White, 1950-1961, 1994, p. 12)
Painted in 1950, the same year as his entrée into the New York art world, Giselle is an outstanding hallmark of the birth of Kline's mature and signature style. Drawing on sources such as Pablo Picasso's metal Construction (1928-29), Kline here focused his energy on the meditated use of line versus negative space. The sharp angles, varying intensity of his brushstrokes and areas of voided space created a dramatic effect that is at once striking yet lyrical. Color is eliminated in favor of architecture and structure, with Kline’s strokes evoking the same sense of ``drawing in space’’ as the linear constructs being created by sculptor David Smith at this time, such as Stainless Window of 1951. Many critics of the day also cited the possible influence of Far Eastern calligraphy in Kline’s black and white works, but Kline denied the affinity. Rather he was more interested in classical masters as artist Dan Rice recalled, ``When Franz talked about painters, he talked about Velazquez or Hokusai, not about Cézanne" (D. Anfam, Ibid., p.12).
A lover of theater and dance, Kline would introduce this theme in subtle ways throughout his oeuvre—most often non-representaionally and through his use of titles. In 1946, Kline first painted The Dancer, a work he would claim was his first "abstract" work. In 1950, Kline painted an abstract evocation of the dancer Nijinsky which also recalls the theme of dance and was shown alongside Giselle in an exhibition at The Kootz Gallery in 1950. With Giselle, the great French ballet of 1841 comes to mind and the unusual delicacy and lightness of Kline’s brushstrokes can be seen as balletic and fragile. However, Kline’s titles are often solely inspirational as the paintings in the end do not reference anything representational. As David Anfam notes, Kline's "titles act like a secondary theme in a fugue, a counterpoint testing out of nuances" (D. Anfam, Ibid., p. 18). As is the case with Giselle, the work may possess the energy and tension of a dance, but it does not depict a literal dancer. Another interpretation suggests Giselle’s curved form is reminiscent of paintings he had done of his wife Elizabeth, herself a dancer with the Sadler Wells company - in a rocking chair in the late 1940s, and the vertical and horizontal construct of the chair lends itself well to compositions such as Giselle. Ballet critic Valerien Svetlov wrote, "From the very outset, Pavlova's interpretation conveys the impression that Giselle is an ephemeral creature, not intended to live amid her fellow men in their commonplace surroundings... She hails from another world, bringing with her a glimpse of its mysteries"—perhaps, in the end, this is closer to what Kline had in mind when he painted Giselle.
Following the beginnings of his mature style with works such as Giselle, Kline, using speed and instinct as his vehicles, would execute a body of work between 1950-1961 that tested the boundaries of abstraction. Kline had achieved an aesthetic of simple and pure form by reducing his palette to two single yet powerful colors on opposite ends of the color spectrum—black and white. The vigor of his paint application, the thickness of the paint and the architectonic structuring of his compositions gave birth to a body of work of unusual dynamism and force.