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Artists Paul Klee
Paul Klee Photo

Paul Klee

Swiss Painter

Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Bauhaus

Born: December 18, 1879 - Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland

Died: June 29, 1940 - Locarno, Switzerland

Paul Klee Timeline


"All art is a memory of age-old things, dark things, whose fragments live on in the artist."
Paul Klee
"You leave the here and now and instead cross over to a yonder that can be total affirmation, Abstraction. The cool romanticism of this style without pathos is unheard of. The more terrible this world (like today's, for example), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world produces art from the here and now."
Paul Klee
"There are indeed very early forms of art around more likely to be found in ethnological museums or at home in the nursery (laugh not, dear reader), for children can paint like this as well. This is by no means a scathing criticism of the efforts of the very young - there is a great deal of positive wisdom in this circumstance. The more helpless these children are, the more instructive their art, for even at this stage there is corruption - when children start to absorb, or even imitate, developed works of art."
Paul Klee
"Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are other, more latent realities..."
Paul Klee

"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."

Paul Klee Signature


Paul Klee, a Swiss-born painter, printmaker and draughtsman of German nationality, was originally associated with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and subsequently taught at the Bauhaus, the widely influential German art school of the interwar period. Klee's diverse body of work cannot, however, be categorized according to any single artistic movement, or "school." His paintings, which are at times fantastic, childlike, or otherwise witty, served as an inspiration to the New York School, as well as many other artists of the 20th century.

Key Ideas

Klee was fundamentally a transcendentalist who believed that the material world was only one among many realities open to human awareness. His use of design, pattern, color, and miniature sign systems all speak to his efforts to employ art as a window onto that philosophical principle.
Klee was a musician for most of his life, often practicing the violin as a warm-up for painting. He naturally saw analogies between music and visual art, such as in the transient nature of musical performance and the time-based processes of painting, or in the expressive power of color as being akin to that of musical sonority. In his lectures at the Bauhaus, Klee even compared the visual rhythm in drawings to the structural, percussive rhythms of a musical composition by the master of counterpoint, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Klee challenged traditional boundaries separating writing and visual art by exploring a new expressive, and largely abstract or poetic language of pictorial symbols and signs. Arrows, letters, musical notation, ancient hieroglyphs, or a few black lines standing in for a person or object frequently appear in his work, while rarely demanding a specific reading.
Klee greatly admired the art of children, who seemed to create free of models or previous examples. In his own work he often strove to achieve a similar untutored simplicity, often by employing intense colors inspired by an early trip to North Africa, and by line drawing in the unstudied manner of an everyday craftsman.
Klee constantly experimented with artistic techniques and the expressive power of color, in the process often breaking traditional or "academic" rules of painting in oils on canvas. Klee also applied paint in unusual ways, such as spraying and stamping during his years at the Bauhaus. Keeping his work within the realm of the "ordinary," Klee also painted on a variety of everyday materials, such as burlap, cardboard panel, and muslin.

Most Important Art

Paul Klee Famous Art

Affected Place [Betroffener Ort] (1922)

Created in Klee's early Bauhaus years, this piece shows a scene of ambiguous signs and symbols over a background of modulated purples and oranges. The various strips of color hint at a horizon, their horizontal emphasis counteracted only by the boldly painted arrow, which abruptly suggests something as ordinary as a road sign. Like the many gradations of color, the arrow generates movement, compelling the viewer's eye to the center of the picture. The influence on Klee of Cubist still lifes, such as those of Picasso and Braque, is clearly apparent: Klee suggests a motif painted from nature while also cancelling it, as though to remind us that this is no window but a kind of abstract sign system.
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Paul Klee Artworks in Focus:



Paul Klee was born to a German father who taught music at the Berne-Hofwil teacher's college and a Swiss mother trained as a professional singer. Encouraged by his musical parents, he took up violin at age seven. His other hobbies, drawing and writing poems, were not fostered in the same way. Despite his parents' wishes that he pursue a musical career, Klee decided he would have more success in the visual arts, a field in which he could create rather than just perform.

Early Training

Klee's academic training focused mostly on his drawing skills. He studied in a private studio for two years before joining the studio of German symbolist Franz von Stuck in 1900. During his studies in Munich, he met Lily Stumpf, a pianist, and the couple married in 1906. Lily's work as a piano instructor supported Klee's early years as an artist, even after the birth of their son, Felix, in 1907.

Paul Klee Biography

Klee remained isolated from the developments of modern art until 1911, when he met Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and August Macke of Der Blaue Reiter. He participated in the second Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1912 and saw there the work of other avant-garde artists such as Robert Delaunay, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque. Klee visited Delaunay's studio in Paris that same year. His experiments with abstraction began at about this time.

Klee's trip to Tunisia in 1914 changed his relationship with color. "Color and I are one," he declared in his diaries. "I am a painter." Traveling with August Macke and Louis Moilliet, he drew and painted watercolor landscapes of Tunis, Hammamet, and Kairouan. After Klee's return, he created several abstract works based on his Tunisian watercolors.

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Paul Klee Biography Continues

Mature Period

Klee's views on abstract art were influenced by Wilhelm Worringer's thesis Abstraction and Empathy (1907), which hypothesized that abstract art was created in a time of war. World War I broke out only three months after Klee had returned from Tunisia. Klee was called to duty in 1916, but was spared the front. Meanwhile, he enjoyed financial success, especially after a large exhibition in Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin. Klee was reserved in his opinions against the war, but when a communist government was declared in Munich in November 1918, he enthusiastically accepted a position on the Executive Committee of Revolutionary Artists. The November Revolution failed soon thereafter and Klee returned to Switzerland.

Paul Klee Photo

Klee accepted an invitation to teach at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920. The Bauhaus was an influential school of architecture and industrial design that aimed to provide students with a grounding in all of the visual arts. Klee taught at the school for ten years, moving with the Bauhaus from Weimar to Dessau in 1925. He taught workshops in book binding and painting stained glass, but his influence as a teacher was most noted in his series of detailed lectures on visual form (Bildnerische Formlehre).

In 1930 Klee left the Bauhaus for the art academy in Dusseldorf, but this brief period of calm ended on January 30, 1933, when Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. Klee was denounced as a "Galician Jew" and a "cultural Bolshevik," and his work derided as "subversive" and "insane." His house in Dessau was searched, and in April 1933 he was dismissed from his teaching position. Klee and his wife returned to Berne in December.

Late Period and Death

Paul Klee Portrait

Two years after returning to Switzerland, Klee fell ill with a disease that would later be diagnosed as progressive schleroderma, an autoimmune disease that hardens the skin and other organs. The artist created only 25 works the year after he fell ill, but his creativity resurged in 1937 and increased to a record 1,253 works in 1939. His late works dealt with the grief, pain, resilience, and acceptance of approaching death.

Several of Klee's works were included in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition staged by the National Socialists in Munich in 1937. The accusations against Klee's character and politics that had been waged against him in Germany complicated his application for Swiss citizenship in 1939. While he had been born in Switzerland, his father was German, which according to Swiss law meant that Klee was a German citizen. Klee died on June 29, 1940 in Locarno, Switzerland, before his final application could be approved.


Klee's artistic legacy has been immense, even if many of his successors have not referenced his work openly as an apparent source or influence. During his lifetime, the Surrealists found Klee's seemingly random juxtaposition of text, abstract signs, and reductive symbols suggestive of the way the mind in dream state recombines disparate objects of everyday and thus brings forth new insights into how the unconscious wields power even over waking reality.

In European art after the 1940s, artists such as Jean Dubuffet continued to reference the art of children as a kind of untutored, expressive ideal. Klee's reputation grew considerably in the 1950s, by which time, for instance, the Abstract Expressionists could view his work in New York exhibitions. Klee's use of signs and symbols particularly interested the artists of the New York School, especially those interested in mythology, the unconscious, and primitivism (as well as the art of the self-trained and that of children). Klee's use of color as an expressive medium of human emotion in its own right also appealed to the Color Field painters, such as Jules Olitski and Helen Frankenthaler. Finally, American artists maturing in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Ellsworth Kelly owed a debt to Klee for his pioneering color theory during the Bauhaus period.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Paul Klee
Interactive chart with Paul Klee's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
Franz MarcFranz Marc


Josef AlbersJosef Albers
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Herwarth WaldenHerwarth Walden


Paul Klee
Paul Klee
Years Worked: 1900 - 1940


Max ErnstMax Ernst
William BaziotesWilliam Baziotes


Will GrohmannWill Grohmann


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

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Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker

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Useful Resources on Paul Klee



The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Paul Klee 1879-1940 Recomended resource

By Susanna Partsch

Paul Klee: Painting Music

By Hajo Duchting

Paul Klee: His Life and Work

By Carolyn Lanchner, O.K. Werckmeister, Ann Temkin

More Interesting Books about Paul Klee

websites about artist

Zentrum Paul Klee Recomended resource

Museum devoted to Klee in Bern, Switzerland


Paul Klee, The Observer Recomended resource

By Isabelle Eichenberger
May 25, 2005

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