Mapping Klee

Intro

Mapping Klee 05.09.20 – 24.01.21

Film and photography, the theory of relativity and psychoanalysis – at the beginning of the 20th century, academic painting was no longer able to address issues of modern life. The X-ray and microscope had made the inner structures, the elementary building blocks of life visible to the human gaze. Many artists started experimenting with new forms of expression beyond any illusionistic representation of the visible world. Figuration or abstraction – that was the question central to Modern Art. Paul Klee (1879-1940) found his own answers in this matter.

Paul Klee, Untitled (The artist's sister), 1903, oil and watercolour on cardboard, 27,5 x 31,5 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

A portrait of Paul Klee’s sister from 1903 – the 24-year-old artist described in his diary how unsatisfactory he found his attempts at figurative painting.

Paul Klee, Abstract, Coloured Circles Linked with Coloured Bands, 1914, 218, watercolour on paper on cardboard, 11,7 x 17,2 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

How can an abstract picture express depth and dynamism? The colourful circles in Klee’s composition seem to move within pictorial space.

Paul Klee, View of Kairouan, 1914, 73, watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 8,4 x 21,1 cm Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See, permanent private loan

At the age of 34, Klee developed the fundamentals of his own visual language based on geometric structures.

Paul Klee, Sailing Ships, 1927, 225, pencil and watercolour on paper on cardboard, 22,8 x 30,2 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Abstract forms against a blue background – and yet the composition of rhythmic lines and forms evokes the gentle rocking of sailing boats.

Paul Klee, Park Near Lu., 1938, 129, oil and coloured paste on paper on burlap; original frame, 100 x 70 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee’s oeuvre culminated in lyrical colour compositions that combined with a reductive symbolism in presenting the essence of things: nature and growth are not depicted here, but rather it is their universal structure that is made visible.

A portrait of Paul Klee’s sister from 1903 – the 24-year-old artist described in his diary how unsatisfactory he found his attempts at figurative painting.

Klee’s extraordinary pictorial worlds are the result of a complex artistic development. He was the recipient of forceful epiphanies during his travels, some of which he was only able to incorporate into his work years later. These were experiences with a long-lasting impact. Five such journeys will provide insights into Klee’s artistic development: from being a student full of doubts to one of the most important modern artists. But what makes his art so unique?

Italy 1901

1901 ITALY
Great Perplexity

Paul Klee, Untitled (Flowers), um 1903, oil on canvas on cardboard; original frame, 36,5 x 31 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee regarded his schooling in Munich as academic and outdated. He ceased studying art and embarked on a study trip through Italy.

  • A picture postcard from Paul Klee to Hans Bloesch (Foro Romano – Tempio di Castore e Polluce), November 26, 1901 Burgerbibliothek Bern, FA Bloesch
  • Paul Klee and Hermann Haller on a bridge over the river Tiber, Rome, February 1902 Photographer: Karl Schmoll von Eisenwerth, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • Paul Klee and Hermann Haller in Rome, February 1902 Photographer: Karl Schmoll von Eisenwerth, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • A picture postcard from Paul Klee to Mathilde Klee (Rome, panorama view from Monte Pincio), January 26,1902 Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee and his friend Hermann Haller stayed in Italy for about seven months. They visited renowned cultural sites in Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompei, and Florence. The Renaissance paintings impressed the budding artist. However, he considered their religious and mythological subject matter to be outdated, feeling that they lacked any connection to the issues of his own time.

Journeys to Italy

For centuries Italy was the destination of choice for the many artists seeking to become acquainted with classical antiquities. The country offered an alternative to Greece, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until the beginning of the 19th century. Albrecht Dürer, Peter Paul Rubens, Angelika Kauffmann, and many others discovered vital inspiration for their own artistic development there, studying art and architecture from antiquity, the Renaissance, and Baroque.

Such scholars like Jacob Burckhardt, one of the founders of art history as a scholarly discipline, and the poet and naturalist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also undertook study trips through Italy. They developed their respective findings further in the books that were to also accompany Paul Klee on his own journey to Italy. In reading Burckhardt’s “The Cicerone,” Klee was able to recognise analogies between the structures of architecture and those found in nature. Burckhardt considered Italian architectural buildings to be living organisms, demanding a study of their “inner essence,” rather than limiting inquiries to what is visible to the eye. Klee also immersed himself deeply in Goethe’s “Italian Journey.”

Italy 1 Paul Klee, Diary, November 1901

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“I have now reached the point where I can look over the great art of antiquity and its Renaissance. But, for myself, I cannot find any artistic connection with our own times. And to want to create something outside of one’s own age strikes me as suspect. Great perplexity.”

Paul Klee, Diary, November 1901

Klee was more sympathetic to Renaissance architecture than painting. Its clearly organised structures were based on mathematical principles. Rhythm and proportion not only determined the structure, but were also made visible in the design of the façades.

The Analysis of Archi­tecture

Klee recognised the general principles of composition in Renaissance buildings that he was likewise seeking in his own art.

“Everywhere I see only architecture, line rhythms, surface rhythms.”

Paul Klee, Diary, 1902
Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Hans Bloesch (Florence – La Cattedrale), April 22, 1902 Burgerbibliothek Bern, FA Bloesch Paul Klee, Santa A. in B., 1929, 170, pen and chalk on paper on cardboard, 21 x 32,9 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Architecture

For Klee, inner structure was the very essence of the buildings. Instead of depicting the surface, the new task of art could be to make elementary order and underlying structure visible.

Nevertheless, Klee was only able to find suitable forms of artistic expression for this knowledge years later. In the drawing “Santa A. in B.” he attempted to capture the order of a city panorama using a basic abstract structure that connected individual elements.

The Study of Nature

In observing plants and animals, Klee continued his search for shared principles.

Klee discovered the principles of fundamental structure not only in architecture, but also in nature itself. On March 23, 1902, he arrived in Naples. There, he visited the public aquarium Stazione Zoologica di Napoli, which had been founded by the German zoologist Anton Dohrn in 1872 in order to promote marine research, and which still exists today. For Klee, the underwater world was to become the epitome of both the origins and diversity of life.

Front cover, Stazione Zoologica di Napoli (pub.), Guida per l'Acquario della Stazione Zoologica di Napoli Modena: 1890 Paul Klee, Fish=People, 1927, 11, oil and tempera on primed canvas on cardboard, 28,5 x 50,5/51 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The drawing on the front cover of the guide to the aquarium depicts the diversity of the underwater world including snails, crabs, octopuses, and fishes. Years later, Klee further developed this experience in his art, in a depiction of an aquarium. Fish and human faces can hardly be distinguished from each other.

Italy 2 Paul Klee, letter to Lily Stumpf, Munich, Tuesday, March 25, 1902

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“Finally, I became religious and admired the waste of divine imagination, while wondering what these forms and colours are for if no human can get close to them?”

Paul Klee, letter to Lily Stumpf, Munich, Tuesday, March 25, 1902

Like many modern artists, Klee was seeking forms of expression for the elementary, the “building blocks of life.” His objective was not a depiction of nature – as he had learned at the academy – but to, just like nature, create something new himself. He found inspiration for his search for universal principles in nature in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Goethe’s Study of Nature

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe first became involved with botany around 1780. During his Italian journey in 1786, he continued such studies. In 1790 his first scholarly text was published under the title “Metamorphosis of Plants.” Goethe was subsequently regarded as one of the founders of comparative morphology, which attempts to classify organisms based on their specific features.

In reading Goethe’s writings, Klee found confirmation for his own search for universal principles in creation. In the “Italian Journey” he underlined the sentence: “For my part, I cannot withhold the conjecture that they [the ancient Greek artists] proceeded according to the same laws by which Nature works, and which I am endeavouring to discover. Only, there is in them something else, which I know not how to express.” Regarding Goethe’s question as to whether it was possible to discover the primeval plant, Klee noted at the margin in his Bern dialect: “chasch lang luege!” [could take a while!]. Klee did not believe in a specific primeval plant, but in a primal principle inherent to nature that enabled the most diverse forms of plant life.

Organism

“I drew a few queerly shaped tree trunks in the park of the Villa Borghese. The linear principles here are similar to those of the human body, only more tightly related. What I have thus learned I at once put to use in my compositions.”

Paul Klee, Diary, Rome, January 1902
Paul Klee, Untitled (Autumn landscape with lake and trees), 1902 gespalten 1, oil and pencil on cardboard, 28,5 x 32,5 cm Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

After more than six months in Italy, Klee retreated to his hometown of Bern, once again living in his parents’ house for four years. He attempted, teaching himself, to continue his studies and was now also studying anatomy – the basic internal structure of the human body.

Following his marriage to Lily Stumpf, Klee returned to Munich in 1906. At the time, the city enjoyed the reputation of being a capital of the arts. Important artists like Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin, Alfred Kubin, and Alexej von Jawlensky who were based there were seeking new directions beyond academic art.

Der Blaue Reiter

The artists’ association Der Blaue Reiter was founded in 1911 in Munich as a loose alliance. A year later, a book of the same name was published, including illustrations and texts on contemporary art movements – the so-called Almanac. Its authors Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc were concerned with the “spiritual in art.” The “true” art they aspired to was one capable of prompting “emotional vibrations” in the viewer. A further important aspect of the Almanac was the juxtaposition and equal treatment of art from a variety of cultures, as well as creations by children, and the lay art of different eras.

Concurrently to the Almanac, Kandinsky and Marc organised two exhibitions in Munich. The first included, in addition to their own, works by August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Henri Rousseau, Robert Delaunay, and Heinrich Campendonk. In the spring of 1912 a second exhibition followed, in which Klee was also represented by several works. The Blaue Reiter artists maintained an intense exchange of ideas with other avant-garde movements, including French artists like Robert Delaunay and Henri Le Fauconnier.

In 1911 Klee became acquainted with the Blaue Reiter’s two spokesmen, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, and thus became part of the Munich art scene. At the same time, he encountered works by French avant-garde artists in galleries in Munich.

Paris 1912

1912 PARIS
Thoughts on Cubism

Paul Klee, With the Rainbow, 1917, 56, watercolour on primed paper on cardboard, 17,4 x 20,8 cm Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

In 1912 Paul Klee embarked on a journey to Paris, where he encountered works by the Cubists and discovered Robert Delaunay’s abstract compositions employing delineated fields of colour.

For centuries, Rome had been the capital of the arts. At the beginning of the 20th century, artists from all over Europe began making the pilgrimage to Paris. The French metropolis became the hub for an international avant-garde. A network of artists and gallery owners created a nurturing environment for the emergence of new movements in Modern Art, which were presented in striking exhibitions.

  • Diary III, no. 911-912, p. 130-131 Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Photo credits: Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Archive
  • Bernheim-Jeune Gallery
  • Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler in the studio on Boulevard de Clichy 11 bpk | RMN - Grand Palais | Pablo Picasso, © Succession Picasso / 2020, by ProLitteris, Zurich Alle Urheberrechte bleiben vorbehalten. Sämtliche Reproduktionen sowie jegliche andere Nutzungen ohne Genehmigung durch ProLitteris - mit Ausnahme des individuellen und privaten Abrufens der Werke - sind verboten.

In his diary, Klee recorded the places he visited on his journey, including a trip on the Seine as well as visits to the Louvre, Notre Dame and various galleries. Bernheim-Jeune was one of the first galleries to exhibit and sell Modern Art. There, Klee was able to see works by Henri Matisse.

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler opened his first gallery in Paris in 1907 and became the most important dealer in Modern Art. Klee saw paintings by André Derain, Pablo Picasso, and Maurice de Vlaminck in Kahnweiler’s “store.”

New Picto­rial Perspec­tives

The completely new representation of space and object in Cubism opened up a new way of seeing the world for Klee.

Advances in Modern Art generated a dynamic momentum: Der Blaue Reiter, Futurism, Expressionism, Fauvism … The era of “isms” had begun. New art movements were emerging everywhere. In Paris at the time, this was mainly in the form of Cubism. Visiting galleries, Klee was able to encounter the works of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. On Kandinsky’s recommendation, Klee visited Henri Le Fauconnier and Robert Delaunay in their studios.

Georges Braque, The Portuguese (The Emigrant), 1911–1912, Oil an canvas, 116.7 x 81.5 cm Kunstmuseum Basel, Dr. h.c. Raoul La Roche 1952 Donation, © 2020, by ProLitteris, Zurich Alle Urheberrechte bleiben vorbehalten. Sämtliche Reproduktionen sowie jegliche andere Nutzungen ohne Genehmigung durch ProLitteris - mit Ausnahme des individuellen und privaten Abrufens der Werke - sind verboten.

Georges Braque’s portrait of a Portuguese is no longer a conventional portrait. In boldly dividing the figure into geometric planes, he went beyond visible, external appearances.

Pablo Picasso, bottle, clarinet, violin, newspaper and glass, 1913, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm Kunstmuseum Bern, Bequest Georges F. Keller 1981, © Succession Picasso / 2020, by ProLitteris, Zurich Alle Urheberrechte bleiben vorbehalten. Sämtliche Reproduktionen sowie jegliche andere Nutzungen ohne Genehmigung durch ProLitteris - mit Ausnahme des individuellen und privaten Abrufens der Werke - sind verboten.

Picasso depicted objects that were only partially recognisable. He dissolved distinctions between object and space, combining them within one pictorial plane. The colour palette has been significantly reduced.

Henri Victor Gabriel Le Fauconnier, The Hunter, circa 1912, oil on canvas, 203 x 166 cm Collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

At the center of Le Fauconnier’s painting is a hunter sporting white pants and boots and armed with a shotgun. Such a segmenting into cubist forms, however, renders the person hardly recognisable.

Georges Braque’s portrait of a Portuguese is no longer a conventional portrait. In boldly dividing the figure into geometric planes, he went beyond visible, external appearances.

Cubism

It was around 1908 that Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso first developed Cubism. They abandoned any perspective-based representation of space, which had been employed since the Renaissance to create a pictorial illusion of spatial depth. Objects were no longer observed from a fixed point of view, but viewed from various angles at the same time. The depicted object is broken down into cubic forms, creating an impression of fragmented structures. The representation of three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional pictorial surface was therefore able to succeed without resorting to sensory illusions. Instead, the artists developed a completely different way of portraying the visible world, in which space and time were placed in a new relation to each other. Despite their abstracted composition, such motifs as people and objects remained nevertheless recognisable in Cubist works.

The Cubist paintings that Klee saw in Paris were a radical attempt to no longer think of the image in terms of the object to be represented, but to employ formal compositional elements in creating new spatial dynamics.

Klee was fascinated by the construction of the pictorial space, which was no longer bound to central perspective. He nevertheless remained critical of the extreme fragmentation of objects and figures. In addition, all this posed a crucial question for painting: is it still necessary to depict an object in painting?

Paris 1 Paul Klee, Die Alpen, Die Ausstellung des Modernen Bundes im Kunsthaus Zürich, vol. 12, August 1912

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“Destruction for the sake of construction? Indifference to the object and at the same time advertising it through its blatant maltreatment?”

Paul Klee, Die Alpen, Die Ausstellung des Modernen Bundes im Kunsthaus Zürich, vol. 12, August 1912

Pictorial Depth

This image demonstrates how Klee was dealing with space and depth immediately after Paris. Details in the simplified pen drawing have become subordinate to composition. Klee still adhered to the old trick of central perspective in order to depict the tug of the vanishing point on architectural lines. It was only later that he succeeded in transferring Cubist representations of space to his own compositions.

Paul Klee, Street Lamp in the Town, 1912, 72, watercolour, pen and pencil on paper on cardboard, 12,9 x 16,2/15,6 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, private loan
Paul Klee, Untitled, 1914, 152, pen on paper on cardboard, 19.8 x 15 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee initially adopted Cubist linear structures in his graphic works.

Paul Klee, With the Red Flag, 1915, 248, watercolour, oil and pencil on primed cardboard, 31 x 26 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Livia Klee Donation

Oval paintings were a pictorial form specific to Cubism. Klee, on the other hand, created an octagonal painting in which the composition was not subordinate to the format as it was with the Cubists. The rectangular forms are cropped by the work’s margins.

Paul Klee, Urban Development with Green Steeple, 1919, 191, watercolour, gouache and pen on paper on cardboard, 30.3 x 13 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

In this urban architecture, Klee broke the buildings down into fragments. Houses are unfolded across the pictorial plane and presented from various perspectives. It was only in this work that Klee began to make use of Cubist devices, seven years after his journey to Paris.

Klee initially adopted Cubist linear structures in his graphic works.

The Dissol­ving of the Object

The encounter with Robert Delaunay’s works was a revelation for Klee. The object within pictorial space began losing its meaning.

On April 11, 1912, Paul Klee visited Robert Delaunay in his Paris studio, where he saw the latter’s window paintings, in which he was further advancing Cubism. In abstract fields of colour, Delaunay captured the view of the city through his window. He was attempting to represent the spectral composition of light through his use of colour.

Robert Delaunay, Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif), 1912, Oil paint on canvas, 457 x 375 mm Photo ©Tate.

The renowned “Fenêtre” (window) paintings were created from 1909, presenting the Eiffel Tower as their main pictorial motif.

Robert Delaunay, Circular Forms, 1912, tempera and oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm Kunstmuseum Bern

From 1912 onwards Delaunay further developed the window paintings into pure abstraction in his “Formes circulaires” (Circular Forms).

The renowned “Fenêtre” (window) paintings were created from 1909, presenting the Eiffel Tower as their main pictorial motif.

Delaunay worked using exclusively colour and reductive forms. Klee valued such abstract colour field compositions more than purely Cubist works, which he considered inconsistent in their representation of objects.

Paris 2 Paul Klee, Die Alpen, Die Ausstellung des Modernen Bundes im Kunsthaus Zürich, vol. 12, August 1912

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“This inconsistency has been remedied in an astonishingly simple way by one artist who has been particularly labouring on it. Delaunay, one of the most brilliant minds of our time, has created a type of autonomous image that leads a life as a completely abstract form without any motifs from nature.”

Paul Klee, Die Alpen, Die Ausstellung des Modernen Bundes im Kunsthaus Zürich, vol. 12, August 1912
Paul Klee, Abstract, Coloured Circles Linked with Coloured Bands, 1914, 218, watercolour on paper on cardboard, 11,7 x 17,2 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

In 1914 Klee finally addressed Delaunay’s paintings, translating them into his own dynamic composition of abstract shapes and colours.

Paul Klee, With the Rainbow, 1917, 56, watercolour on primed paper on cardboard, 17,4 x 20,8 cm Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee transformed the dynamics and colours of Delaunay’s “Circular Forms” into angular, coloured bands.

In 1914 Klee finally addressed Delaunay’s paintings, translating them into his own dynamic composition of abstract shapes and colours.

Colour Fields

Paul Klee was indebted to both Delaunay’s work and theories in his new approach to colour, light, and abstraction. It was, nevertheless, only later that he succeeded in translating impressions of city and light into non-representational imagery distinguished by great dynamism.

Tunisia 1914

1914 TUNISIA
The Discovery of Urban Architecture

Paul Klee, (In the Kairouan Style, Transposed into the Moderate), 1914, 211, watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 12,3 x 19,5 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Paul Klee’s journey to Tunisia has become mythic. It represents the artist’s breakthrough in colour. It was, however, Tunisia’s cubic architecture that prompted Klee to adopt a new mode of composition.

  • Paul Klee and August Macke on the ship-crossing from Marseille to Tunis (from August Macke’s photograph album), April 1914, photographer: Louis Moilliet LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Macke-Archiv, photographic credit: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Sabine Ahlbrand-Dornseif
  • Paul Klee and August Macke with a tourist guide in front of the Mosque of the Barber, Kairouan (from August Macke’s photograph album) April 1914, photographer: Louis Moilliet LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Macke-Archiv, photographic credit: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Sabine Ahlbrand-Dornseif
  • Paul Klee on the beach at St. Germain (from August Macke’s photograph album) April 1914, photographer: August Macke LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Macke-Archiv, photographic credit: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Sabine Ahlbrand-Dornseif
  • Paul Klee and August Macke with their painting equipment (from August Macke’s photograph album) April 1914, photographer: Louis Moilliet LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Macke-Archiv, photographic credit: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster /Sabine Ahlbrand-Dornseif
  • Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Louise Frick (Tunis, minaret of the Grand Mosque), April 12, 1914 Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

In 1914 Klee travelled with the painters Louis Moilliet and August Macke to Tunisia. They spent two weeks on the usual tourist trails – from Tunis via St. Germain and Hammamet to Kairouan. Moilliet had already been to Tunisia in both 1908 and 1909 and assumed the role of travel guide.

The Tunisian Journey

In 1910 the exhibition “Meisterwerke Muhammedanischer Kunst” (Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art) went on display in Munich, leaving a lasting impression on Kandinsky, Marc, and Macke. Klee, however, did not mention the event. He did not seem to be particularly interested in the art of the Muslim Orient. What impressed him the most during his trips to Tunisia and later Egypt were the landscape and urban architecture, as well as the countries’ colours and light.

Many artists and acquaintances in Klee’s own milieu travelled to North Africa, which under French colonial rule was openly accessible to Europeans. It was there that they sought inspiration beyond the classical canon and enjoyed certain freedoms far beyond prevailing social norms. Kandinsky and Münter visited Tunisia for several months in 1904/05. Macke’s future wife Elisabeth Gerhardt was also in Tunis at the time with her mother. Moilliet travelled to Tunisia in 1908 as a guest of the Bern-based couple Dr Ernst and Rosa Jäggi-Müller and visited them again for several months in 1909/10.

The plan for a joint “study trip” to Tunisia where they would “each inspire one another” was set about on Klee’s initiative. The journey was to be financed by supporters in exchange for works of art. August Macke was able to organise the financing of his trip himself because he was already selling well. Louis Moilliet attempted to gain support for travel expenses from Dr Jäggi, who also invited Klee and Moilliet to stay at his apartment in Tunis.

In contrast to his friends, Louis Moilliet painted only three watercolours during this period. Macke reported, after only a few days, that he felt a joy in working that he had never experienced before. He was an excellent watercolourist depicting street scenes in vivid, luminous colours. Klee was, during this period, still very tentative in using colour.

August Macke, Market in Tunis I, 1914, watercolour and a little opaque white over pencil on watercolour board, 29 x 22.5 cm Private collection, courtesy of Thole Rotermund Kunsthandel, Hamburg

August Macke captured new impressions of the oriental world in watercolours and drawings.

Louis Moilliet,St. Germain near Tunis, 1914, watercolour on paper, 20,7 x 26,6 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, © 2020, by ProLitteris, Zurich Alle Urheberrechte bleiben vorbehalten. Sämtliche Reproduktionen sowie jegliche andere Nutzungen ohne Genehmigung durch ProLitteris - mit Ausnahme des individuellen und privaten Abrufens der Werke - sind verboten.

Louis Moilliet rarely painted in such an abstract and reductive manner as here. Influenced by Macke he addressed the colour contrast between yellow and blue.

Paul Klee, Before the Gates of Kairouan, 1914, 216, watercolour on paper on cardboard, 20,7 x 31,5 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

In contrast to Macke, Klee was not particularly interested in the new motifs, but was rather more concerned with testing a new type of pictorial composition based on simple structures.

August Macke captured new impressions of the oriental world in watercolours and drawings.

Picto­rial Archi­tecture

Klee was fascinated by the local architecture in Tunis, which mainly consisted of white, cubic forms.

Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Hans Klee (Kairouan, panorama), April 15, 1914 Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, © the administration of the Paul Klee Estate, Hinterkappelen Paul Klee, View of Kairouan, 1914, 73, watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 8,4 x 21,1 cm Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See, permanent private loan

Tunisia Paul Klee, Diary, April 8, 1914, Tunis

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“Began the synthesis of urban architecture and pictorial architecture.”

Paul Klee, Diary, April 8, 1914, Tunis

Synthesis

Klee recognised abstract structures in the geometric simplicity of the buildings. What he had already suspected 13 years earlier in Italy became a certainty here. He identified parallels between urban architecture and pictorial composition, that is, the structure of abstract composition. Klee ended the journey prematurely so that he could immediately put his new findings into practice in his Munich studio.

“I felt somewhat restless, my cart was overloaded, I had to set to work. The big hunt was over. Now I had to unravel.”

Paul Klee, Diary, April 19, 1914, Tunis

In North Africa, Klee arrived at the essence of his visual language, which he would continue to work on until the end of his life: abstract structures and grids cover the pictorial surface, while memories of figurative objects make repeated appearances.

Paul Klee, (In the Kairouan Style, Transposed into the Moderate), 1914, 211, watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 12,3 x 19,5 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The composition is animated by the variety and differing levels of the colours’ light and darkness as well as opposing circular and rectangular forms.

Paul Klee, , 1915, 117, watercolour on paper on cardboard, 20,5 x 11,2 cm Private collection, Switzerland, on extended loan to the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The geometric forms evoke the architectural, such as the triangles of gables or the vertical rectangle of a tower. What would appear to be an abstract image does, in Klee, retain a relation to reality. He emphasised that reference in the work’s title: “Urban Representation.”

Paul Klee, Zoological Garden, 1918, 42, watercolour on primed paper on cardboard, 17,1 x 23,1 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Towards the end of the First World War, Klee painted luminously vivid watercolours involving imaginative motifs. In the background, geometric areas of colour form a kind of scaffold from which objects such as animals, plants, mountains, or an eye emerge.

Paul Klee, Picture of a Town (Red-Green Gradated) [with the Red Dome], 1923, 90, oil on cardboard on plywood; original frame, 46 x 35 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Livia Klee Donation

During the 1920s, Klee more often created abstract paintings. However, he continued to allude to existing architectural elements, such as a dome, using semicircles, which is once again reflected in the title of the work.

The composition is animated by the variety and differing levels of the colours’ light and darkness as well as opposing circular and rectangular forms.

For Klee, abstraction is not the opposite of figuration. In contrast to the most significant art movements of the time, he developed a style that combined both representational and abstract elements.

South France 1927

1927 SOUTHERN FRANCE
Observing New Rhythms

Paul Klee, Sailing Ships, 1927, 225, pencil and watercolour on paper on cardboard, 22,8 x 30,2 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Since 1921 Klee had been a professor at the Bauhaus, where he taught practical composition. For Klee, journeys to more southern climes were a welcome distraction from his teaching work.

Klee was at the height of his career. The appointment to the Bauhaus not only meant material security for the artist, but it also contributed to him being regarded as one of the most important artists of his time.

The institution and its international artists became a nucleus of modern art and architecture, where fundamental questions of design were debated: to what extent can the interplay of colour, form, and structure be redefined to express the demands of modern life?

The Bauhaus

In 1919, an institution for the teaching of design with a pedagogical mission was established in Weimar under the directorship of the architect Walter Gropius. Training in both art and craft were to be merged, the objective being a practical interaction between the structures of art, industry, and social life. The list of Bauhaus masters reads like a “Who’s Who” of Modern Art: Josef Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, and Gunta Stölzl. Comparable to Munich and Paris, the Bauhaus became a hub for an international avant-garde, where new forms of artistic expression and social reforms could be explored.

Klee was able to resume his friendship with Kandinsky at the Bauhaus. In Dessau they became neighbours in their so-called master houses. The relationship between the two artists was intensified by proximity in private life. They drank tea together and celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve in each other’s company. They shared a friendly but politely distant relationship. While in Munich Kandinsky, who was 13 years Klee’s senior, had clearly been the better-known artist, at the Bauhaus they were peers. Kandinsky’s artistic mission was to develop a non-objective art that would be capable of conveying spiritual values. In contrast, Klee sought a balance between abstraction and figuration. Kandinsky taught rather rigid rules of composition in his Bauhaus class, whereas Klee demonstrated possible compositional strategies, from which the students were free to choose.

Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, Burgkühnauerallee 6-7, Dessau, 1929, photographer: Nina Kandinsky? Centre Pompidou, MnamCci, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky

But despite all his enthusiasm for such an aesthetic exchange – the regimentation of teaching and the abundance of related tasks were also a great burden for Klee. He felt both fatigued and restricted. Klee’s artistic endeavours came off badly besides the time-consuming teaching duties.

He was able to relax on vacations in the south. In 1927 he stayed on the island of Porquerolles in the south of France. He drew only a little, above all enjoying the warm climate and good food.

  • Paul Klee on the ship from Portoferraio (Elba) to Piombino, 1926, photographer: unknown Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • Karla Grosch and Paul Klee on the island of Porquerolles, 1927, photographer: Felix Klee Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation, © the administration of the Paul Klee Estate, Hinterkappelen
  • Porquerolles, 1927, photographer: unknown Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • Paul Klee on the island of Porquerolles, between July 28 and August 6, 1927, photographer: Felix Klee Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation, © the administration of the Paul Klee Estate, Hinterkappelen

Southern France Paul Klee, letter to Lily Klee, Porquerolles, Wednesday, August 10, 1927

00:00 00:00 00:00

“And it’s the colour that does it, this is what I search for all the time: to awaken sounds which slumber inside of me, a small or big adventure in colour.”

Paul Klee, letter to Lily Klee, Porquerolles, Wednesday, August 10, 1927

Rhythm

During vacations at the Mediterranean, Klee observed the sailing ships on the water. Around 1927 they more often found their way into Klee’s own pictorial world. The motif fascinated him. In such paintings, contrasting angular and curved shapes confront each other. At the same time, lines and forms create an impression of the slightly rocking movement of the ships.

Paul Klee, Departure of the Ships, 1927, 140.1 (D 10), oil on canvas on wooden panel, 50 x 60 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
Paul Klee, Sailing Ships, Slightly Moving, 1927, 149, pen on paper on cardboard, 30,5 x 46,3 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
Paul Klee, Sailing Ships, 1927, 225, pencil and watercolour on paper on cardboard, 22,8 x 30,2 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
Paul Klee, Reef Ship, 1927, 215, chalk on paper on cardboard, 21 x 33,1 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee recognised in the sailing ships the ideal motif to represent his notions of movement and rhythm. It is no coincidence that the patterns in the drawings could also be interpreted as the movements of a baton.

Paul Klee, the Musician

Klee came from a musical family. His father was a singing teacher, his mother a singer. He began playing the violin at the age of seven. After completing his schooling, Klee imagined himself becoming a professional musician – but opted for painting. He nevertheless continued to play the violin until the end of his life. Klee translated aspects of music such as tact, rhythm, and polyphony into visual art – employing smooth or angular lines, but also through the use of contrasts of light and dark, as well as colour. He frequently used musical terms in the titles of his paintings.

Quintet in the studio of Heinrich Knirr's art school, Munich, 1900, photographer: unknown Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation

Movement

“Movement is the basis of all becoming.”

Paul Klee, Creative Confession, 1920

For Klee, movement was the basic prerequisite for all life and therefore also for any composition. “Movement is the norm,” was the sentence at the core of his thoughts on pictorial creation. In his class at the Bauhaus, he also made reference to Goethe’s scholarly writings, explaining movement not only by musical examples, but also with the growth of plants as well as that of the human body.

Paul Klee, Theory of pictorial configuration: I.4 Structure Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Egypt 1928

1928 EGYPT
Consolidation in Simplification

Paul Klee, Intention, 1938, 126, coloured paste on paper on burlap; original frame, 75,5 x 112,3 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

It was in hieroglyphs in particular that Klee discovered a specific source for his work. But in landscape as well he found inspiration for abstract compositions.

  • Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Lily Klee (Cairo, Citadel and Egyptian Cemetery), December 26, 1928 Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Lily Klee (Cairo, Native Turners), December 29,1928 Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
  • Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Felix Klee (Cairo, The Sphinx and Pyramids), December 25,1928 Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation

From December 17, 1928, until January 17, 1929, Klee travelled Egypt: to Cairo, Alexandria, and the more southerly destinations of Luxor, Karnak, and Aswan. Klee compared his impressions to those of his first journey to the Orient, experiencing the mosques in Cairo as too kitsch and baroque.

The onward journey to southern Egypt, however, began to reconcile him with the initial culture shock of Cairo. He started to become more accustomed and, in Luxor, Karnak, and Aswan, began to appreciate the African, which he described as “Nubian”, in people.

Land­scape Compo­sition

In contrast to the abstract urban architectures that Klee painted en plein air in watercolours in Tunisia, he subsequently developed his impressions of Egypt into strict geometric compositions in the studio.

Picture postcard from Paul Klee to Lily Klee (Egypt / Egypt, Landscape showing Pyramids), 27.12.1928 Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation Paul Klee, Monument in the Fertile Country, 1929, 41, watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 45,7 x 30,8 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee perceived a rhythm in the landscape around the Nile, which he incorporated into his painting. The pictorial space was structured in horizontal layers, which he based around a simple numerical rhythm: the areas were divided into 2, 4, 8, or 16 elements, a device enabling him to represent musical rhythm pictorially.

The Develop­ment of New Symbols

The encounter with Egyptian hieroglyphics endowed symbols with new meaning for Klee.

Klee had been experimenting with letters and numbers as early as during the First World War. Inspired by Arabic characters, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and prehistoric drawings incised in stone, he developed his own characters and symbols in his late work.

Symbols

Paul Klee, Legend of the Nile, 1937, 215, pastel on cotton on coloured paste on burlap, 69 x 61 cm Hermann and Margrit Rupf-Foundation, Kunstmuseum Bern

The line held special significance for Klee, as mediator between visible and invisible worlds. He rendered people, animals, and plants into reductive strokes. Until his death in 1940, the line remained the central artistic element in his work.

Using the stroke, he created timeless universal symbols understandable to everybody, regardless of their cultural background or age. Those symbols inspire while leaving room for individual interpretations.

Lines

Paul Klee, Park Near Lu., 1938, 129, oil and coloured paste on paper on burlap; original frame, 100 x 70 cm Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

A point starts to move without a specific destination and in doing so forms a line – it was this phenomenon that Klee was interested in. Movement and process were more important to Klee than the result, which remained open until the end. It is precisely such openness that makes his art so relevant today, so interesting and unique. Klee indicates a path without specifying the destination.

Klee presented a striking role model for many post-war artists attempting to break away from the “isms” of Modern Art. He demonstrated ways in which momentums in culture and the natural sciences could be translated into an individual pictorial language – not as a style, but as an attitude.

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.”

Paul Klee, Creative Confession, 1920

Insider tip

Insider tip

In 2019, Zentrum Paul Klee sent over 130 works from its collection on tour to Brazil. The exhibition Equilíbrio Instável (Unstable Equilibrium) with stops in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte was visited by over 500,000 people. In view of recent political developments in Brazil and the associated cuts in cultural life, this was a project that offered the Brazilian public a rare opportunity of encountering Klee’s works in the original.

One extraordinary phenomenon is Paul Klee’s enormous popularity in Japan. Numerous Japanese writers, art collectors, and artists have engaged intensely with Klee’s work. From 1960 onwards, large-scale Klee exhibitions were regularly held in Japan. Klee has not only been exhibited in museums there, but even in shopping centres. Researchers explain such a success as being a result of the parallels that Klee’s visual language displays with the aesthetic traditions of Japan. Japanese audiences are familiar from their own traditions with calligraphic elements, harmonious compositions, and imagery entailing a large scope for interpretation.

Paul Klee – Equilíbrio Instável, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo, 12.02. – 29.04.19