43rd Annual Meeting – Joint Painting Specialty Group and Research and Technical Studies Session, May 14, “Franz Kline’s Paintings: Black and White?“ by Zahira Veliz Bomford, Corina Rogge, and Maite Leal

Three works by Franz Kline in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston were discussed with regard to their condition and construction: Wotan (1950), Orange and Black Wall (1959), and Corinthian II (1961). While the first two paintings exhibit alarming craquelure and flaking, the latter is in good condition. Rogge details the Museum’s investigation into the circumstances which lead to such differing states of preservation, presenting a clear, thoughtful look at Kline’s working methods and legacy.
Prior to this study, it was suspected that condition issues stemmed at least in part from the presence of zinc white, which Kline is known to have used; however, the causes of instability were not quite so “black and white.” The three aforementioned paintings were examined using a range of analytical methods, and an array of inherent vices were identified, including underbound paint, zinc/lead soaps, interaction with the gelatin sizing in the canvas, the thickness of paint layers, and the use of poor quality canvas. Kline also seems to have modified commercial paints.
It was found that Kline’s methods of layering paint and use of various materials was crucial to each painting’s relative (in)stability. It was suggested additionally that Woton’s integrity was compromised due at least in part to transportation. In the presentation, an animated map charted the painting’s transit, making the point of how excessively well traveled the work has been during its somewhat brief lifetime.
While treatment options for the paintings discussed were and are limited by inherent vice, the work undertaken to specify the various forces at play was remarkable: this talk above all highlighted the incredible ability we have today to begin to unravel the complexity of intertwined degradation mechanisms.