A Swiss-born painter and graphic artist whose personal,
often gently humorous works are replete with allusions to dreams, music,
and poetry, Paul Klee,
b. Dec. 18, 1879, d. June 29, 1940, is difficult to classify.
and children's art all seem blended
into his small-scale, delicate paintings, watercolors, and drawings. Klee
grew up in a musical family and was himself a violinist. After much
hesitation he chose to study art, not music, and he attended the Munich
Academy in 1900. There his teacher was the popular symbolist and society
painter Franz von Stuck. Klee later toured Italy (1901–02), responding
enthusiastically to Early Christian and Byzantine art.
Klee's early works are mostly etchings and pen-and-ink drawings. These
combine satirical, grotesque, and surreal elements and reveal the influence
Francisco de Goya
and James Ensor, both of whom Klee admired. Two of his
best-known etchings, dating from 1903, are
Virgin in a Tree and
Two Men Meet, Each Believing the Other to Be of Higher Rank.
Such peculiar, evocative titles are characteristic of Klee and give his
works an added dimension of meaning.
After his marriage in 1906 to the pianist Lili Stumpf, Klee settled in
Munich, then an important center for avant-garde art. That same year he
exhibited his etchings for the first time. His friendship with the painters
and August Macke prompted him to join Der Blaue Reiter (The
Blue Rider), an
group that contributed much to the development of abstract art.
A turning point in Klee's career was his visit to Tunisia with Macke and
Louis Molliet in 1914. He was so overwhelmed by the intense light there that
"Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase
after it, I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of
this blessed moment. Color and I are one. I am a painter."
He now built up
compositions of colored squares that have the radiance of the mosaics he saw
on his Italian sojourn. The watercolor
Red and White Domes
Collection of Clifford Odets, New York City) is distinctive of this period.
Klee often incorporated letters and numerals into his paintings, as in
Once Emerged from the Gray of Night
(1917-18; Klee Foundation, Berlin).
These, part of Klee's complex language of symbols and signs, are drawn from
the unconscious and used to obtain a poetic amalgam of abstraction and
reality. He wrote that "Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes
visible," and he pursued this goal in a wide range of media using an
amazingly inventive battery of techniques. Line and color predominate with
Klee, but he also produced series of works that explore mosaic and other
Klee taught at the BAUHAUS school after World War I, where his friend
Kandinsky was also a faculty member. In
Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925), one
of his several important essays on art theory, Klee tried to define and
analyze the primary visual elements and the ways in which they could be
applied. In 1931 he began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy, but he was
dismissed by the Nazis, who termed his work "degenerate." In 1933, Klee went
to Switzerland. There he came down with the crippling collagen disease
scleroderma, which forced him to develop a simpler style and eventually
killed him. The late works, characterized by heavy black lines, are often
reflections on death and war, but his last painting,
Still Life (1940; Felix Klee collection, Bern),
is a serene summation of his life's concerns as a creator.