Fred R. Kline, "art explorer," who placed lost works in museums, dies at 81

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Fred R. Kline, "art explorer," who placed lost works in museums, dies at 81
He called himself an “Art Explorer,“ and his discoveries are held in many notable collections and museums.

SANTA FE, NM.- Fred R. Kline, an art dealer and art historian who dedicated his career to identifying the creators of paintings and drawings that had lost their place in the world, died Saturday, September 11, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a two-year struggle with leukemia. He was 81 years old.

Kline was a polymath of the art world – a writer, poet, sculptor, gallerist and collector. But he largely focused his career on researching art that was unattributed or misattributed or had somehow become misinterpreted. He called himself an “Art Explorer,“ and his discoveries are held in many notable collections and museums.

Among collections that hold Kline's discoveries are the Thaw Collection of Master Drawings at The Morgan Library; the J. Paul Getty Museum; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jenness Collection of Master Drawings at Clark Art Institute; Leeds Museum, UK; Frances Lehman Loeb Art Museum at Vassar College; and the Aga Khan Collection of Old Master Drawings. Kline chose to repatriate sacred objects and gave several discoveries back to their creators, including the Onondaga and Seminole tribes.

“Mr. Kline took art under his altruistic wing and cared for it, “ said Rachael Cozad, founding director of the Riverbank Foundation for Art Research, based in Kansas City, Missouri. “He found interest in any and every type of object and from all time periods; no work of art was too insignificant to warrant his interest or his altruism.”

Mr. Kline’s extensive art library was donated to the Riverbank Foundation, through which Kline served as editor and head of the Advisory Board of the George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonn. Bingham, the artist, held a particular fascination for Kline, as he rarely signed his paintings, and thus Kline devoted many years to the scrupulous process of Bingham attributions.

Kline detailed his art discoveries in his memoir, Leonardo’s Holy Child - The Discovery of a Leonardo da Vinci Masterpiece: A Connoisseur’s Search for Lost Art in America, published in 2016 by Pegasus Books, New York & London. He also served as Art Historian on the Leonardo da Vinci DNA-Project, under the sponsorship of the Lounsbery Foundation, J. Craig Venter Institute, and Rockefeller University, which was created to discover Leonardo’s physiological profile for the first time.

During the past 35 years, Kline’s discoveries of lost art have been featured in the New York Times, Art & Antiques Magazine, Esquire and in the art history textbook Framing America: A Social History of American Art by Frances Pohl. Pohl highlighted and illustrated Kline’s discovery of the ca. 1530 Aztec-Spanish (Indochristian) sculpture "La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo" as among the first New World works of art.

Born November 3, 1939 in Hagerstown, MD, Kline spent most of his youth in San Antonio, Texas. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1960-62 and was stationed in Japan and Southeast Asia during early reconnaissance for the coming Vietnam War. He received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University (1968).

During the mid 1970s, Kline was on the editorial staff of National Geographic Magazine.

As a sculptor, Kline’s public installation Temple of the Hills, sited in Santa Fe, was recognized in Art in America and the Smithsonian Outdoor Sculpture Survey. As a poet, he was invited by Poet Laureate Josephine Jacobsen, in 1975, to record selections from his four books of poetry at the Library of Congress.

In 1979 Kline established the Fred R. Kline Gallery in Santa Fe, where he worked alongside his late wife (Jann Arbogust Sasser Kline).

Since 2017, Kline had resided in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he continued his work as a private art dealer and writer, along with an array of art adventures and a love for humanity, animals and nature. He is survived by his son, Aren Kline, of Santa Fe, NM; his daughter, Dia Kline, of Niwot, CO; his granddaughter, Astrid Slavin ; stepchildren Tara Kitzmiller, Jarrett Sasser, Mitch Sasser; and his partner of nine years, Angela Zimm of Northampton, MA.

by Rachael Cozad, founding director of the Riverbank Foundation and Angela Zimm, member of Riverbank Foundation Board and writer based in Northampton, MA

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