"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."
PAUL KLEE SYNOPSIS
Paul Klee, a Swiss-born painter, printmaker and draughtsman of German nationality, was originally associated with the Germangroup Der Blaue Reiter, and subsequently taught at the , 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 , as well as many other artists of the 20th century.
PAUL KLEE KEY IDEAS
MOST IMPORTANT ART
Winged Hero (Der Held mit dem Flugel) (1905)
Klee was first a draughtsman before becoming a painter. The etchings in his early series, Inventions, demonstrate Klee's ability to manipulate line and tonal value to create a figure with strange and grotesque limbs. An artist's inscription in the bottom right corner of the picture explains the underlying concept: "Because this man was born with one wing, he believed he could fly. His attempts, of course, have only resulted in crashes and a broken left arm and leg." The strange creature could very well represent a kind of self-portrait of the typical progressive artist at the turn of the 20th century, perpetually pursuing his full potential while repeatedly struggling against public incomprehension or apathy.
Etching with drypoint on zinc - Museum of Modern Art, New York
PAUL KLEE BIOGRAPHY
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.
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.
Klee remained isolated from the developments of modern art until 1911, when he met, , and 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 , , and . 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 withand , 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.
Klee's views on abstract art were influenced bythesis 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 Tunis. 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.
Klee accepted an invitation to teach at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920. Thewas 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
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.
PAUL KLEE LEGACY
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
In European art after the 1940s, artists such as 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 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 , such as and . Finally, American artists maturing in the 1960s and 1970s, such as owed a debt to Klee for his pioneering color theory during the Bauhaus period.
PAUL KLEE QUOTES
"All art is a memory of age-old things, dark things, whose fragments live on in the artist."
"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."
"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."
"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 Influences
Interactive chart with Paul Klee's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
Paul Klee BOOKS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
Paul Klee 1879-1940
By Susanna Partsch
Paul Klee: Painting Music
By Hajo Duchting
Paul Klee: His Life and Work
By Carolyn Lanchner, O.K. Werckmeister, Ann Temkin