Merce C

Franz Kline, Merce C, 1961, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.64
Copied Franz Kline, Merce C, 1961, oil on canvas, 9374 58 in. (236.2189.4 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.64

Artwork Details

Merce C
Not on view
9374 58 in. (236.2189.4 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Abstract
  • Performing arts — dance
  • Portrait male — Cunningham, Merce
Object Number

Artwork Description

Merce C is Franz Kline's tribute to the dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom he taught at the experimental art school Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the 1950s. The strokes of dense black paint pushing their way through the white field suggest a pair of athletic dancers carving the space with their movements. Kline was a methodical painter who made preliminary sketches for his large canvases and contemplated each stroke of the brush. He worked and reworked edges and intersections, overpainting black on white and white on black to create dynamic structure. The spatters and drips of black paint reveal that Merce C was painted on the horizontal, resting on what is now the canvas's right edge. Kline probably arrived at the title only after he had turned the canvas around. He was in the habit of naming his paintings sometimes months after they were finished, and never tried to paint a preconceived idea. Kline once said that it was enough to experience the "pure excitement of... things happening" on the canvas.