Lot 8
  • 8

Franz Kline

6,500,000 - 8,500,000 USD
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  • Franz Kline
  • Shenandoah
  • signed and dated 56 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 57 x 81 in. 144.8 x 205.7 cm.


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist in 1957)
Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Scull, New York (acquired from the above in 1959)
Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, October 13, 1965, Lot 10
Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, Baltimore (acquired from the above)
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in October 1973


São Paulo, Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo, Parque do Ibirapuera, Bienal de São Paulo, 1957
Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Primera Bienal Interamericana de Pintura y Grabado, June - August 1958
Venice, XXX Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Summer 1960, cat. no. 31, pp. 314-315
Washington D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art; Waltham, Poses Institue of Fine Arts, Brandeis University; Baltimore Museum of Art, Franz Kline Memorial Exhibition, October 1962 - May 1963, cat. no. 66, p. 29, illustrated
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Basel, Kunsthalle Basel; Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts; London, Whitechapel Gallery; Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Franz Kline Memorial Travelling Exhibition, September 1963 - September 1964, cat. no. 33, illustrated (Amsterdam, Turin, Brussels, Basel, and Vienna), cat. no. 32, illustrated (London) and cat. no. 31, illustrated (Paris)
Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Fine Art, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, March - July 1966


Frank Getlein, "Washington," The Burlington Magazine, vol. CIX, no. 717, December 1962, p. 565
Lucia Moholy, "Switzerland," The Burlington Magazine, vol. CVI, no. 732, March 1964, p. 142
Hans Curjel, "Ausstellungen - Basel: Franz Kline, Alfred Jensen," Werk, vol. 51, no. 4, April 1964, pp. 80-81
Keith Roberts, "London," The Burlington Magazine, vol. CVI, no. 736, July 1964, p. 350
"Coming Auctions," Art News, vol. 64, no. 5, September 1965, p. 47, illustrated
Artforum, vol. 4, no. 1, September 1965, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, 1945 - 1995, 1996, no. 33, n.p., illustrated
Exh. Cat., Rivoli-Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Franz Kline 1910-1962, October 2004 - January 2005, p. 402, illustrated


This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed wood strip frame painted black with silver facing and small float.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Across more than six feet of canvas Franz Kline’s remorseless swathes of viscous oil paint surge and build into an urgent and arresting paradigm of Abstract Expressionism, culminating in a visual exclamation of phenomenal force. A commanding masterpiece of the artist’s oeuvre, Shenandoah belongs squarely at the heart of Kline’s most revered period, having been executed in 1956. While it is archetypal of his powerful yet sophisticated brand of action painting, and epitomizes the stark polarity of his signature black and white palette, this work is singularly remarkable for reasons both inside and outside the boundaries of its canvas. Its illustrious exhibition history incorporates shows in ten countries across three continents, including Kline’s contribution to the 1960 Venice Biennale, while its notable provenance is even more impressive. Shenandoah has spent chapters of its history in the private collections of both Robert and Ethel Scull, and subsequently that of Robert and Jane Meyerhoff. These collectors assembled two of the most outstanding troves of post-war and contemporary American art, and were at the forefront of defining the shape of contemporary art history as leading connoisseurs and tastemakers of their day. Both the Sculls and the Meyerhoffs possessed a singular commitment to collecting only works of the very highest quality, and the fact that they each singled out Shenandoah to grace their collections is resonant indication of this work’s eminence.

Supremely evident in Shenandoah is Kline’s sharpening of focus on the `object' of his composition and his enlargement of the proportion of image to canvas. Indeed, despite this canvas’ significant scale, the vast tracts of paint seem like a tightly-cropped window onto a barely-conceivable painterly expanse. This monolithic painting comprises a visceral onslaught of broad sweeps in loaded impasto, principally in the inky black and creamy white oils of Kline’s inimitable aesthetic. Shadows of violence, disorganization and the tracery of paint drips vividly retell the narrative of its execution, and the speed and vigor of the artist’s practice. These aggregations of seemingly pliable material both overlap in diametric tonal opposition, and coalesce as one dramatically textured paint landscape. Moreover, Shenandoah is suffused with layers of golden ochers that mark a key departure from his purely monochromatic canvases of the earlier 1950s. The golden accents peak through the aggressively angular architecture of black and white, imbuing the entire canvas with a warmth and chromatic elegance that is absent from some of Kline’s more brutally polarized compositions. Kline’s autograph pictorial language was founded on the dynamic juxtaposition of black and white and the welding of these opposites to bring out the inherent tension between simultaneously dependent and autonomous opposites. However, the additional hint of a distant majestic hue in Shenandoah brings an entire new dimension to Kline’s painterly vernacular: departing the graphic muscularity of the purely black and white paintings, here Kline engages a realm of color more in the manner of his peers Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko.

Within the New York school of Abstract Expressionism, Kline's work sprang forth at the turn of the 1950s and he quickly established an immediately-recognizable style marked by dominant strokes applied with energy and spontaneity while stretching the potential of a black and white repertoire. The inspirational catalyst of his 1950s abstract paintings were his 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. The earliest black and white paintings were composed of sharp angles intersected by arcs to create lyrical areas of voided space. Varying dramatic extremes of mark-making affirmed the predominance of formal structure over color.  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.

Until his early death in 1962 at the age of 51, Kline advanced this principally monochromatic genre of Abstract Expressionism, rooted in the gestural application of paint yet also imbued with rich connotation. 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) However, there is of course no concealed cipher to interpret Kline’s determinedly abstract and unashamedly confident art. As epitomized by Shenandoah, ultimately it offers the viewer visual and somatic experiences of profound emotional and psychological resonance as determined by our individually subjective response.