Kline arrived at Abstract Expressionism later than others, having continued working in a figural style redolent of American Scene painters into the late 1940s. By that time, he was ready to concentrate on formal concerns, and his friendship with Willem de Kooning helped pave the way. As a means to break free of figurative representation, Kline experimented with a Bell-Opticon enlarger (in de Kooning's studio) to project some of his small drawings in large scale, and he made a leap toward abstraction. By late 1950, he was exhibiting abstract work that immediately brought him success. Large-scale black and white compositions of energetic, dramatic gestures in which wide swaths of paint thrust across the canvas. For many, even these works of complete abstraction still evoke figural references (to various landscapes or urban scenes of industry, or to trees or other referents). Kline acknowledged this residue of imagery: "There are forms that are figurative to me, and if they develop into a figurative image … it's all right if they do. I don't have the feeling that something has to be completely non-associative as far as figure form is concerned."
In 1956, Kline reintroduced color. Black Reflections, an intensely colored small work on paper, may in fact relate to an earlier black and white piece. Kline's work, so apparently spontaneous or impulsive in its emphasis on highly dramatic gestural brushstrokes, is, in fact, carefully considered. The sweeps and rapid brushings of both thick and diluted paint are the product of much meditation. He often drew inspiration for large compositions from small studies, and he also continued explorations of key elements in works even years after their creation. In this case, the central black shape is a mirror image of the shape in a black and white untitled painting of 1954.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): Kline 59
the artist (sold to Schneider); Mr. and Mrs. Norman Schneider (by 1960–64; their gift to MMA)
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Business Buys American Art," March 17–April 24, 1960, no. 56 (lent by Allison Manufacturing Co.).
Bellingham, Wash. Whatcom Museum of History and Art. "5000 Years of Art: An Exhibition from the Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 4, 1976–October 2, 1977, no. 84.
New Brunswick, N. J. Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. "Abstract Expressionism, Other Dimensions: An Introduction to Small Scale Painterly Abstraction in America, 1940-1965," March 25–June 13, 1990, no. 54.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "Abstract Expressionism, Works on Paper: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 26–April 4, 1993, no. 21.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Abstract Expressionism, Works on Paper: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 4–September 12, 1993, extended to November 7, 1993, no. 21.
Barcelona. Fundació Antoni Tàpies. "Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity," March 18–June 5, 1994, no. 46.
London. Whitechapel Gallery. "Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity," July 8–September 11, 1994, no. 46.
Madrid. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. "Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity," September 27–November 21, 1994, no. 46.
Saarland Museum, Saarbrücken, Germany. "Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity," December 11–February 5, 1995, no. 46.
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. "Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper, Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 11–June 4, 1995, no. 21.
Madrid. Fundación Juan March. "Expresionismo Abstracto: Obra Sobre Papel, Colección The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York," May 9–July 2, 2000, no. 21.
Turin. Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea. "Franz Kline, 1910–1962," October 20, 2004–January 31, 2005, unnumbered cat. (p. 263).
Barcelona. Fundació Joan Miró. "Mestres del collage: de Picasso à Rauschenberg," November 25, 2005–February 26, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 177).
Jeffrey Wechsler. Abstract Expressionism, Other Dimensions : An Introduction to Small Scale Painterly Abstraction in America, 1940-1965. Exh. cat., Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables. New Brunswick, N. J., 1989, p. 110, no. 54, fig. 92.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, ed. Franz Kline, 1910–1962. Exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea. Milan, 2004, pp. 262–63, ill. (color).