Lot 15
  • 15

Franz Kline

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
2,322,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Franz Kline
  • Herald
  • signed and dated 54 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas

  • 57 1/2 x 82 inches 146.1 x 208.9 cm


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Robert Halff, Los Angeles
Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York and Los Angeles
Private Collection, New York
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1996


Houston, The Menil Collection; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Franz Kline: Black & White 1950-1961, September 1994 - June 1995, cat. no. 24, p. 61, illustrated in color
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Franz Kline Architecture & Atmosphere, October 1997 - January 1998, cat. no. 31, illustrated in color
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Abstraction, March - April 2002
Rivoli-Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Franz Kline 1910 - 1962, October 2004 - January 2005, p. 215, illustrated in color


Harry Gaugh, "Franz Kline's Romantic Abstractions," Artforum, Summer 1975, p. 32, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Franz Kline's Herald from 1953-1954 has a storied exhibition and provenance history.  Once in the collection of the esteemed Los Angeles collector Robert Halff, this painting was chosen for inclusion in some of the most important Franz Kline exhibitions in the United States and Europe.  Allan Stone acquired the work in 1996 and immediately included it in his Franz Kline Architecture & Atmosphere exhibition of 1997.  Following a thirty-five year relationship with the artist's work and a commitment to Abstract Expressionism lasting just as long, it was Stone's intention that this exhibition would perpetuate Kline's place at the forefront of the movement and as a fundamental figure in the dialogue about abstraction.  The present work possesses an elegant and confident vigor in a structurally self-sufficient and fluid composition, and can be heralded as one of his greatest masterpieces. 

Franz Kline's mature work of the 1950's and early 1960's can be recapitulated as a dynamic juxtaposition of black and white –  a welding of opposites that while mutually dependent, are also autonomous.  Kline was a late comer to gestural abstraction relative to his piers and enhanced the movement rather than paved the way.  Within the New York school of Abstract Expressionism, artists the likes 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 from the 1940's to 1950's, quickly establishing a signature style marked by bold brushstrokes, applied with vigor and apparent spontaneity while stretching the seemingly limited potential of a black and white repertoire.  The present work, Herald, from 1953-54 stretches the expressive potential of the palette and is a first-rate architectonic masterpiece from the pinnacle of the artist's oeuvre.

Kline's 1950's abstract paintings were based on drawings made on pages from a telephone book to which he would then return to select the ones he felt would work best as paintings.  A draftsman to the core, Kline's early figurative work and later abstractions were both greatly influenced by his drawings. In 1997Allan Stone reflected on his discovery of Kline's drawing talents: "the dawn of my enlightenment occurred at a Sotheby's odd lot exhibition where I came upon a Franz Kline London sketchbook from 1936 which contained a small collection of ink drawings and notes.  Could Kline draw?......He was a great draftsman!" (Exh. Cat., New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Franz Kline Architecture and Abstraction, 1997, n.p).

The earliest black and white paintings were composed of sharp angles intersected by arcs to create lyrical areas of voided space. Varying energetic brush strokes reaffirmed that color had been eliminated in favor of structure.  In 1950, Kline was given his first solo show by Charles Egan at the Egan Gallery in New York City at which eleven black and white paintings were exhibited and the success of the show affirmed Kline's arrival at the most triumphant period of his career.  Kline truly reveled in the plasticity of paint and the power of gesture and as he continued to paint in black and white the works became increasingly geometric – defined by a framework of horizontals and verticals creating formidable scaffolding to support the power of the paintings.

Kline's greatest paintings, such as Herald are marked by an impressive and iconic simplicity.  Little by little, semi-representational imagery was relinquished and the artist liberated line from likeness.  The black and white paintings continued for twelve years, with occasional returns to color, until his early death in 1962 at the age of 51.  Yet, the more monochromatic palette remains the artist's signature genre and the application of paint grounds the works securely in gestural abstraction.  In a 1975 article on Franz Kline's later painting, Harry Gaugh noted, "his mature abstractions are filled with subtleties, soft-spoken variations on the themes of passion, gentility, resignation, conflict, celebration, solitude and many others, all eagerly romantic.  Kline's big black-and-white style has its heroic side, but it is intimate as well." (Harry F. Gaugh, "Franz Kline's Romantic Abstraction," ArtForum, Summer 1975, p. 28)  Although greatly influenced by his contemporaries and friends Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Kline's work seemed least given to angst and self-doubt.  In Herald, the forthright black rectangle has a strength and presence perhaps inspired by both Kline's roots in the industrial coal towns of eastern Pennsylvania and subsequently his move toward the steel and girders of city life in New York.  Kline's rectangle is as individual and impactful as Pollock's drip, Newman's zip, and Rothko's stacks of ethereal hues.

Kline's love of the speed and forward motion of railroads and automobiles is apparent in his paintings.  Many New York School photographers, such as Rudolph Burkhardt shared Kline's interest in consciously breaking the rules of their respective medium to express velocity and tension.  Burckhardt's framing of the industrial landscape of New York vibrates with a dynamism that redefines the boundaries of the medium and can be closely compared to Kline's own.  As with the tonal purity of black and white photography, Kline's reduction of his palette was instrumental in the development of his mature style in which he masterfully balanced the equivocal forces of black and white, as well as stasis and motion.  In 1952, Kline sharpened his focus on the `object' of his composition and enlarged the proportion of image to canvas, evident in the composition of Herald.  The present work is also exemplar of Kline's preference for differing sheens of black paint and plaster-like heavy whites – turning paint, image and his own corporal movement into unyielding tangible substance.