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Christie's to offer Franz Kline's most important work ever presented at auction
Franz Kline (1910-1962), Untitled. Oil on canvas, 79 x 112 ½ in. Painted in 1957. Estimate: $20-30 million. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s presents a major work by Franz Kline, Property from a Notable Private Collection, as one of its highlights of the evening sale. Painted in 1957, Untitled is a nearly three-meter long work, which is one of the finest of the great series of predominantly black-and-white abstractions that Kline produced between 1950 and his premature death in 1962. A large, powerful and almost visually explosive work with its vast, sweeping brushstroke forms colliding into one another create a taut and febrile tension of surface, a classic example of the tradition established by Kline’s works. Untitled 1957 is the most important and the rarest painting by the artist ever presented on the market, and the most significant American Abstract Expressionist work to be offered at auction this season in New York.

“These past years the market has seen major works from masters of the Abstract Expressionism such as Mark Rothko, Clifford Still, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman. This fall 2012, Christie’s is presenting the most significant piece of Abstract Expressionism to come to auction with the rarest and most important work by Franz Kline. Untitled 1957 is a testimony to the power of the brushstroke, a unique demonstration of the vigor, emotional directness and conviction that defined his work and the heroic spirit of American Abstract painting in the Post-War era.” Declared Brett Gorvy, International Head, Chairman for Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art.

There are perhaps no finer pictorial expressions of the unique, exhilarating and dramatic period of liberation and triumph that took place in American painting in New York in the 1950s than the large, dynamic, freeform black-and-white paintings that Franz Kline produced between 1950 and 1961. Seeming to encapsulate all the energy, drama, freedom and dynamism embodied by this seminal decade in the history of American 20th Century Art and to condense it into one extraordinary flat planar space, Kline’s black-and white paintings are the quintessential ‘Abstract Expressionist’ pictures.

Stark, raw, blunt and direct, these works, often heroically scaled, are pure, elemental abstractions that dynamically express the artist’s complete physical and emotional involvement in his work using only the most fundamental of painterly means. More than any other pictures from this extraordinarily vital and creative period in history, these works best express the New York School painters’ distinctly urban and romantic sense of themselves as lone individuals caught in an existential struggle with modern life; of their being the heroic pioneers in a modern cultural wasteland operating on behalf of an endangered humanity with the hope of forging a new art from the cultural void left by World War II, the Holocaust and the Atom Bomb.

Like many Abstract Expressionists, Kline had arrived at this unique way of working through a gradual process of refining an earlier figurative style of painting into a form that in the late 1940s gradually became completely abstract. The crucial catalyst for his signature black-and-white style famously took place in the studio of his close friend Willem de Kooning one night when de Kooning, who practiced a similar collaging technique with sketches and fragments to that employed by Kline, showed off his new technique of building elements of his painting using fragments blown up in scale with a Bell-Opticon projector. By way of demonstration de Kooning also used the projector to magnify some of Kline’s oil sketches. What Kline saw in these illuminated enlargements of his drawings was both a simplification, into dark and light, and a magnifying of form and its gestural energy.

Untitled, like most of Kline’s black-and-white paintings, is ultimately an indefinable entity, but one that remains nonetheless deeply evocative of its time and of the exhilarating improvisational spirit of creative experimentation in which it was made. Indeed, it was for this reason that Kline often eschewed the practice of bestowing titles upon such works.

‘Who could not be moved by his sense of push and thrust? Kline’s great black bars have the tension of a taut bow, or a ready catapult. And his sense of scale, that sine qua non of good painting, is marvelously precise. His big paintings can be as good as his small ones, a rare mastery in this period concerned with the power of magnitude.’ Robert Motherwell, ‘Homage to Franz Kline’ 1962.

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