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Franz Kline’s Last Studio at 242 West 14th Street

Outside view of Franz Kline’s 242 West 14th Street studio, 1961. Photograph by Virginia Dortch.

It is no secret that the New York School Artists were deeply rooted in and influenced by Greenwich Village and its environs. The “Club” at 39 East 8th Street, the Ninth Street Show, and the 10th Street Galleries in the proposed South of Union Square Historic District shaped 20th century American art. Jackson Pollock kept studios at 49 East 10th Street, 46 Carmine Street, and 47 Horatio Street; Willem de Kooning had studios at 827-831 Broadway and 88 East 10th Street; and Franz Kline had studios at 59 East 9th Street and 32 East 10th Street.There were also a number of significant artists’ studios along 14th Street. The Fourteenth Street School artists depicted the neighborhood in their social realist paintings and rented studios at 30 East 14th Street as well as 240 West 14th Street.

242 West 14th Street today and 242 West 14th Street circa 1940.

Franz Kline rented the main floor at 242 West 14th Street as his studio space from 1957 until his death in 1962. 242 West 14th Street is a brick Italianate rowhouse between 7th and 8th Avenues built in 1853, and altered in 1897 to accommodate its new commercial usage with a store on the ground and main floor, with offices above. For the alteration, architect Franklin Bayliss added the imposing cast-iron storefront to its basement, first and second floors, as well as new show windows and a stoop. This cast iron storefront exemplifies 14th Street’s character at the time — no longer a thoroughfare of grand single-family residences as it once was, but rather a bustling, commercial hub.

Franz Kline in his studio at 242 West 14th Street. April 7, 1961. Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah.

The large storefront windows provided the ample lighting that Franz Kline (May 23, 1910 – May 13, 1962) required for his creative process. Kline was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania and moved to New York City in 1938. He started his artistic career as a realist painter, but after meeting Willem de Kooning, his style evolved to what would be his signature abstract approach to painting. He was known for his black-and-white abstractions using house paint. Art critic Harold Rosenberg referred to his painting style as ‘action painting,’ and during the 1950s he became a key figure in the abstract expressionist movement. 

Interior view of Kline’s 242 West 14th Street studio, 1961. Kline with Piero-Dorazio. Photograph by Virginia Dortch.

Fielding Dawson’s 1967 memoir described his mentor Franz Kline’s studio space at 242 West 14th Street as a “great place” where “there wasn’t a thing that wasn’t entirely him.” Famed curator Katherine Kuh visited Kline’s studio in 1961 and recalled “The place, buried in a sea of paintings, fairly exploded with raw power. But there was also a curious mystery about those canvases swathed in dark rivers of pigment that opened up only to close again. One moment the paintings seemed as clear and artless as translucent water, the next they were obscure, hidden, unreachable.” 

Franz Kline, Probst I, 1960. Oil on canvas.
Franz Kline, Red Painting, 1961. Oil on canvas.

After moving into this studio in 1957, Kline began experimenting with color once again — using planes painted in different hues to evoke a more complex sense of space. His style also became looser, and in works such as Red Painting (1961) some of his pictures were almost monochromatic.

Kline’s reputation was secure as a leading Abstract Expressionist. He was exhibiting continuously in the United States and abroad, and was selected to show at the Venice Biennale in 1960, along with Hans Hofmann, Philip Guston, and Theodore Roszac. In 1961, his works were also included in “American Vanguard,” an exhibition organized by the United States Information Agency, and toured throughout Europe. These exhibitions are now seen as an important facet of the American government’s efforts to advance itself as a bastion of free expression in the midst of the Cold War.

Kline died unexpectedly of heart failure on May 13, 1962, at the young age of fifty-two.

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