Historical Markers
Franz Kline Historical Marker
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Franz Kline

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
River Commons on River St. between South and Northampton Streets, Wilke-Barre

Dedication Date:
September 7, 2001

Behind the Marker

A black and white contemporary image
Torches Mauve , 1960, by Franz Kline.
Noted for his bold black and white abstractions, Franz Kline was one of the most important Abstract Expressionist painters. Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1910, Kline was only seven when his father committed suicide. He then attended Philadelphia's markerGirard College, a boarding school for orphans, before moving to Lehighton, Pennsylvania at age fifteen to live with his mother and stepfather. During the 1930s, he studied at Boston University and Heatherly's School of Fine Art in London. While in Europe, he became fascinated by the large masses of dark color in the paintings of seventeenth-century painters Rembrandt, Velasquez and El Greco, the black-and-white graphics of Goya, Daumier, and Durer, and Japanese prints, all of which influenced his work.

After marrying British dancer Elizabeth Vincent Parsons in 1938, he returned to the United States the following year and lived for the rest of his life in Greenwich Village, New York. There he became a fixture in the bohemian art world, and a circle of friends that included artists Willem and Elaine De Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock. Kline became a leader in the post-war art movement called "Abstract Expressionism." Revolting against conventional subjects and painting styles, the Abstract Expressionists embraced personal spontaneity in order to capture feelings and emotions.

Conservative critics considered their work garbage, nothing more than scribbles and squiggles on paper that anyone could have painted. But post-war collectors, including heiress Peggy Guggenheim - who displayed their work at her Art of Century Gallery on 57th Street - became avid fans. Reacting against both the traditional art favored by their wealthy predecessors and by the Nazis, they were happy to promote a style of art that also originated in the United States.

Like Pollock and several other artists of the school, Kline drank heavily and lived his life to the fullest in New York. His friends loved him for his sense of humor and conversational skills; he sketched constantly on napkins, scraps of paper, and the walls of the Minetta Tavern, his favorite bar.

A black and white contemporary image
A black and white oil painting
Kline's works from the early 1940s such as "Chatham Square," "The Fulton Fish Market," and "Palmerton, Pa." were effective evocations of the energy of industrial and urban America. His stylistic breakthrough came in 1949, when he enlarged some of his small sketches on a film projector, which inspired him to create the huge black-and-white canvasses for which he is best known. Shortly before his death from a heart attack, he began to introduce color into his pieces, but remains best known for such works as "The Bridge." He entitled many of his canvasses after places he had known in Pennsylvania "Lehigh," "Shenandoah," "Mahoning," "Wanamaker Block," and "Scranton," for instance. There is nothing literal about any of them, but these stark black-and-white canvases convey the beauty of an industrial landscape in decline.

Initially, Kline exhibited at the outdoor art shows in Greenwich Village, and was able to support himself through sales of his paintings. His chief patrons were his family doctor, Theodore Edlich, who bought fifty paintings, and businessman I. David Orr, who purchased and commissioned more than 130. Kline had numerous one-man shows in America, and was the sensation of the 1960 Venice Biennial Exhibition, where Italian painters compared the depth and variety of his black to the Baroque painter Caravaggio's dark tones. Poor health forced him to cease painting just when he was becoming world famous, marker just when he was becoming world famous, but his canvasses, as described by the poet Frank O'Hara, expressed "the American dream of power, that power which shuns domination and subjection and exists purely to inspire love."
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