Franz Kline stands amongst the finest and most influential American painters of the post-war period. Powerful, vigorous and imbued with a palpable sense of liberation, his seminal series of black and white paintings dating from between 1950 and his untimely death in 1962 embody the unquenchable energy of mid-century New York and are the manifestation of the extraordinary triumph of painting that defined art during that time. Pushing the medium to the limits of its expressive and abstract potential, Kline’s unforgettable, dramatically refined painterly style and stark monochrome palette privileged the experience of painting above all.
Executed at the peak of his career in 1960, Steeplechase shows Kline using his distinctive, dramatically economic visual vocabulary with mesmeric strength. Exemplary of the finest of his final works, it was exhibited at Kline’s memorial exhibition at The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C., in 1962, and since then it has been in a private collection, rarely seen by the public. Indubitably a tour de force of painting, dense black angular forms interplay with white on a monumental scale, resonating with a vivid intensity.
Exceeding seven feet in height and nearly five feet in width, Steeplechase is a monumental canvas, heightening the enthralling visual impact of its design with a mixed sensation of fragility and raw strength. With its rough black grids evoking the scale and power of an expansive skyline, Steeplechase, like so many of Kline’s others works, conveys some of the raw energy and grit of 1950s New York, but it is humanized, like the city itself, by traces of intimacy. Deliberate imperfections, irregularities and imbalances within the composition give life to the architectonic geometry of the bisecting forms. Managing to invoke instinctive responses via the most essential of means, Kline’s paintings speak to a shared humanity.