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Rubbish or Riches: ‘Happy Birthday’ Kline proves to be a valuable present, indeed

By Staff | Nov 19, 2014

‘Happy Birthday Jess’ by Franz Kline

Has the owner of this week’s chosen object found Rubbish or Riches? Read on as I assess a painting on paper by American master Franz Kline (b. 1910 – d. 1962) owned by a private collector from Naples!

Anthony and Jess Scrippa, approached me with their painting titled “Happy Birthday Jess” to discuss selling. He explained that his uncle, Philip Pavia, had been a significant Abstract Expressionist sculptor and painter in the middle portion of the 20th century. It was through Pavia that Scrippa met Franz Kline and the two became friends. Scrippa said that in 1959 Kline had created the piece for Scrippa’s current wife, Jess while watching the World Series together.

Kline is one of the founding artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, which was a group of artists who began to create the first completely non-representational or abstract artwork in history. The artists quite often employed what was dubbed as “Action Painting” which was the use of full body motions for applying paint in abstract composition to a canvas that was usually laid upon the floor or tacked to a wall. They used techniques that included the dripping of paint, pouring of paint, large unconventional gestural brushstrokes sometimes using house paint and many other methods to create their often large paintings that were usually proclaimed to represent nothing as far as subject matter. Other artists, along with Kline who co-founded the American movement, were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Today, Pollock (1912-1956) is the most highly valued of the artists with individual paintings having sold for up to $140 million!

The piece to be assessed today is a painting on paper by Kline from 1959 titled “Happy Birthday Jess” that measures 47 3/4 x 114 3/8 inches and is signed by the artist, lower left. The drawing is the largest known painting on paper to have been created by Kline in his career. It was referenced in a book by leading Kline scholar, April Kingsley, “The Turning Point: the Abstract Expressionists and the Transformation of American Art” (1992), p. 297.

While one of Kline’s large abstract paintings on canvas from 1957 sold at Christie’s auction house in New York City for in excess of $40 million in 2012, the question posed here is what is this large, atypical painting on paper worth? While paintings on paper by Kline with key imagery range in price from $1,000 to in excess of $700,000 each, I would place the value of this painting at $100,000.

Do you have an artwork that you’ve always wanted to know the value and history of? Send it to Eric I. Hornak Spoutz at ericspoutz@gmail.com.

About the author:

Eric I. Hornak Spoutz is a nationally recognized art historian, museum exhibition curator and the cofounder of Gallery 928 located at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. He curated the 2013 Presidential Inaugural exhibition at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington D.C. and has placed artworks into the permanent collections of the Smithsonian

Institution, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Dartmouth College and scores of other institutions.