Sunday, September 9, 2007

Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Sierra Club


Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age.


Please browse our Amazon list of titles about Paul Klee. For rare and hard to find works we recommend our Alibris list of titles about Paul Klee.


COPAC UK: Paul Klee
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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.

Primitive art, surrealism, cubism, 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 of 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 Wassily Kandinsky and August Macke prompted him to join Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an expressionist group that contributed much to the development of abstract art. The Blaue Reiter group of artists was established in Munich in 1911. Wassily Kandinsky was one of the founders. Other well-known artists that were part of it were Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele M√ľnter and Paul Klee. The members were interested in European Medieval art and primitivism as well as the contemporary, non-figurative art scene in France. The name of the movement comes from a painting of a blue knight that was used on the front of an almanac edited by its members.

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 he wrote: 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 (1914; 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 effects.

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. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the WebMuseum and Wikipedia article on Paul Klee.]

Books from Alibris: Paul Klee


Vleeptron Dude said...

Hello Russell McNeil,

Might you know the title of this Paul Klee painting? I'm lazy and thought you might have a shortcut.

If you don't know -- well, then it looks as if I'm doomed to spend an hour or two gazing through Klee's sublime paintings. But thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

Do you know about the new Klee Museum in Bern CH? The Klee inside speaks for itself, but the building is a quite startling piece of architecture by Renzo Piano.

Have you been up the coast to see the new Great Bear Forest? I'm dying to see it.

Are you familiar with the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma? It's a fascinating relatively new topic in mathematics that, for the first time, puts a quantitative foundation under ethics and morality. After 2500 years of subjective yak and gab, whodathunkit?

Oh, and of course -- nice blog!

Bob Merkin
Massachusetts USA

Russell McNeil said...


I finally discovered your post - but 18 months late! Sorry. I have over 1,000 pages on the blog and I missed your thoughtful comments. I'm sure you know by now that the work is called "Captive (1940)" executed during the final year of Klee's life.