Paul Klee

Paul Klee
Die Kapelle, 1917, 127
Tropische Dämmerung, 1921, 128
vor dem Blitz, 1923,150
Besessenes Mädchen, 1924, 250
Was fehlt ihm?, 1930, 268 (AE 8)
aufgehender Stern, 1931, 230 (V 10)
Diana, 1931, 287 (Y 7)
nach der UeberSchwemmung, 1936, 7 (7)
Zeichen in Gelb, 1937, 210 (U 10)
boote in der Überflutung, 1937, 222 (V 2)
Halme, 1938, 6 (6)
die Vase, 1938, 122 (J 2)
Wald-Hexen, 1938,145 (K 5)
ein Weib für Götter, 1938, 452 (A12)
ein TOR, 1939, 911 (XX11)
glüht nach, 1939, 925 (YY 5)
O! die Gerüchte!, 1939, 1015 (CD 15)
MUMOM sinkt trunken in den Sessel, 1940, 301 (H1)
Schlamm-Assel-Fisch, 1940, 323 (G 3)
Ohne Titel [Gefangen/Diesseits – Jenseits/ Figur], about 1940
Die Kapelle, 1917, 127
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Paul Klee
Die Kapelle, 1917, 127

The Chapel
Watercolour and white tempera on paper on cardboard, 29.5 x 15 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Klee’s artistic career was bounded by the two major wars of the twentieth century. In 1914 the First World War broke out just three months after the legendary trip to Tunis that opened his eyes to colour. The Second World War was not even a year old when he died in 1940 in Muralto. When Klee painted Die Kapelle (The Chapel), he was himself a soldier – but to his good fortune stationed simply as a clerk with a German flying academy. As an artist, he was already in full flight: the watercolour demonstrates his fully developed style, replenishing the old pictorial rectangle with new spaces by using a dreamy geometry of precise and at the same time profoundly soulful gradations of colour. Mountains and architectural structures rise up out of a brownish base layer and are unfolded into an illusion of three-dimensionality. Like a playing card, Klee’s magical buildings can be read both upside and down – as the moons make clear.

Tropische Dämmerung, 1921, 128
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Paul Klee
Tropische Dämmerung, 1921, 128

Tropical Twilight
Oil on white primer on paper on cardboard, 33.5 x 23 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

vor dem Blitz, 1923,150
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Paul Klee
vor dem Blitz, 1923,150

Before the Lightning
Watercolour and pencil on paper, top and bottom edges with gouache, watercolour, and quill on cardboard, 28 x 31.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Besessenes Mädchen, 1924, 250
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Paul Klee
Besessenes Mädchen, 1924, 250

Girl Possessed
Oil transfer drawing and watercolour on paper on cardboard, 44.2 x 29.2 cm
Photo: Cantz Medienmanagement, Ostfildern

This sheet, whose title means ‘Girl Possessed’, could be interpreted as the representation of an actress or singer whose ardent performance has unwittingly descended into the ridiculous. The notion of ‘possession’, admittedly, has a number of implications: it could also mean being transported by a mysterious ecstasy, during which the possessed person sees beyond the veil of everyday reality. Seen in this light, could this girl be an oracular Delphic priestess or a female shaman in a trance, baring her teeth in ‘animal’ fashion and uttering hidden secrets? Her remote gaze and solemn symmetry would fit such a notion. The question remains as to why the girl has no hair. Shorn for religious reasons? Shaved off in the psychiatric clinic? Whatever the case, we are made spectators of an utterance that opens the door to a reality beyond rational perception – something true of Klee’s art as a whole.

Was fehlt ihm?, 1930, 268 (AE 8)
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Paul Klee
Was fehlt ihm?, 1930, 268 (AE 8)

What’s the Matter with Him?
Stamped drawing in ink on Ingres paper on cardboard, 55.5 x 34 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

aufgehender Stern, 1931, 230 (V 10)
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Paul Klee
aufgehender Stern, 1931, 230 (V 10)

Rising Star
Oil on canvas, 63 x 50 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

During the years 1930–33 Klee produced numerous works characterized by the use of small, regularly spaced dots of colour. He called these works ‘divisionist’, thus associating his technique with that of Seurat and Signac, who in the late nineteenth century had built up their pictures with small strokes of primary and complementary colours to achieve a systematic use of colour that reflected new optical theories. Unlike the Postimpressionists, however, Klee lays down his grid of dots on top of bright colour planes, thereby setting off an interplay of different colour membranes. In Aufgehender Stern (Rising Star), this grid appears in front of delicate clouds of colour and is complemented by small, detached planes and open arrangements of lines. The lines at the bottom of the picture mark horizons, for example, while at the top a zigzag trail charts the path travelled over time by a star rising in the firmament. The picture as a repository of time – a central idea of Klee’s art.

Diana, 1931, 287 (Y 7)
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Paul Klee
Diana, 1931, 287 (Y 7)

Oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Already anticipating the heavy lines of his late work, the lines in Diana are energetically swept together to create planes set against the darkly mysterious dotted ground. These planes, likewise dotted, join up as a skin of colour to form the figure of the goddess of the hunt, twirling leftwards on a wheel as she pursues an arrow armed with an eye. In these two paintings Klee combines the ephemeral aspect of divisionism with his own understanding of the picture as a stage upon which essential, timeless forces can be rendered visible.

nach der UeberSchwemmung, 1936, 7 (7)
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Paul Klee
nach der UeberSchwemmung, 1936, 7 (7)

After the Flood
Coloured paste and watercolour on Ingres paper on cardboard, 47.9 x 62.6 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer; Basel

Having suffered from 1933 onwards under the political threat to his own work and to European culture as a whole, in 1935/36 Paul Klee was diagnosed with an incurable scleroderma. His late œuvre seems to have been profoundly influenced by these developments. Colourful planes (often left white in works on paper) engage in dialogue with heavy, chiefly black lines, which may emerge in all manner of shapes and combinations within one and the same picture, to make signs, figures and abstract grids. Working with just one basic artistic vocabulary, Klee was now able to switch freely between figure, sign and pure form, thereby fusing the central artistic idioms of Modernism into something new. The first recognizable instance of this style in the Fondation’s collection is found in nach der UeberSchwemmung (After the flood), one of the only 25 works that Klee produced in his year of crisis, 1936. In this picture, which probably makes reference to Klee’s earlier trip to Egypt in 1928, the lines resemble a script legible only as form, but one that gains in solidity as it moves upwards and injects rhythm into the still muddily muted colours.

Zeichen in Gelb, 1937, 210 (U 10)
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Paul Klee
Zeichen in Gelb, 1937, 210 (U 10)

Signs in Yellow
Pastel on cotton on coloured paste on burlap on stretcher, 83.5 x 50.3 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

Zeichen in Gelb (Signs in yellow) represents Klee’s major work of 1937 and sees him working – as in all of his late œuvre – against his own serious illness and the darkening political situation. With its balance of heavy lines and colour fields, it demonstrates the style of these last years in a particularly impressive fashion: the signs – plants, characters and forms – are here united with magnificent fields of yellow and orange on all sides. The perfect equilibrium between the traditionally opposite poles of drawing and colour is matched in this work by the balance between meaning and openness: legibility is once again dispatched into the free preserve of form, while nameless form is brought back into the vicinity of possible meaning.

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boote in der Überflutung, 1937, 222 (V 2)
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Paul Klee
boote in der Überflutung, 1937, 222 (V 2)

Boats in the Flood Waters
Coloured paste on wrapping paper on cardboard, 49.5 x 32.5 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

The theme of the flood inspired by Klee’s 1928 trip to Egypt (cf. nach der UeberSchwemmung, 1936) is encountered again in boote in der Überflutung (Boats in the floodwaters) of 1937, which seems altogether reminiscent of Egyptian art. The individual lineaments are now distinctly separate from one another: bound together by the water, the elements of the landscape take shape in an upward progression from ancient symbols via plants to simple boats.

Halme, 1938, 6 (6)
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Paul Klee
Halme, 1938, 6 (6)

Blades
Coloured paste on paper on cardboard, 50 x 35 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Executed on paper but with the aura of a large painting, Halme (Blades) dates from 1938, a highly productive year for Klee despite his illness and external political constraints. It resembles a pictorial garden: black bars in different shapes guide the viewer as if exploring a labyrinth of shades of green.

die Vase, 1938, 122 (J 2)
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Paul Klee
die Vase, 1938, 122 (J 2)

The Vase
Oil on burlap on burlap, 88 x 54.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Wald-Hexen, 1938,145 (K 5)
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Paul Klee
Wald-Hexen, 1938,145 (K 5)

Forest Witches
Oil on paper on burlap, 99 x 74 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

Klee’s Wald-Hexen (Forest witches) ranks among the most impressive works of his final years. Over an olive-green ground, the heavy lines so typical of Klee’s late œuvre form a lattice that meanders across the entire surface of the picture and – in a new departure – even seems to extend beyond its edges. Out of diverse, not directly related fragments of these lineaments, the figures of two ‘witches’ gradually crystallize before our eyes. Standing on the right is a naked figure, of whom we can make out the legs, belly, breasts and head, including the face. The figure on the left also shows her face, while her legs, clad in a dress, execute a dance step. Although the mysterious female figures are made easier to locate by some of the fiery red colour zones surrounding the dark lines, Klee shows the witches as if in a vision, one that threatens to vanish at any moment into the camouflaging confusion of the dense vegetation of heavy lines.

ein Weib für Götter, 1938, 452 (A12)
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Paul Klee
ein Weib für Götter, 1938, 452 (A12)

A Woman for Gods
Coloured paste and watercolour on wrapping paper on cardboard, 44.3 x 60.5 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

The female figure in ein Weib für Götter (A woman for gods) is of a singular kind. She looks as if she has been crammed into the rectangular picture by force. And even though – in contrast to the Wald-Hexen witches – she is drawn with an unbroken line, she too is fragmented: just one leg and one arm are visible, the latter, moreover, severed of its hand. Her figure furthermore possesses an eerie power to transform itself: if we rotate the image 90° clockwise, her breasts turn into the eyes of a monster and the red moon becomes a mouth. What precisely does this picture show? A disfigured, entombed goddess – or a human (female) sacrifice offered to the gods? Whatever the case, in the artist’s seemingly ironically distorted image of a ‘woman for gods’ her disquieting figure no longer matches our idea of a female chosen for such a destiny. Here the myth is hidden, disquieting and mutilated.

ein TOR, 1939, 911 (XX11)
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Paul Klee
ein TOR, 1939, 911 (XX11)

A Gate
Tempera on Ingres paper on cardboard, 31.6 x 14 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

‘This a gate through which we must all one day pass – Death’. Thus the reported reaction of the philosopher Martin Heidegger when he first saw ein Tor (‘a Gate’) in the Galerie Beyeler. Klee, who gave the sheet to the Basel collector Richard Doetsch-Benziger for Christmas in 1939, created the picture in several steps. First of all he painted the entire sheet black, and then proceeded to mask this black with other layers of paint, leaving exposed only those areas which we now see as black lines and adding the silvery-grey forms of the architecture and landscape, together with the moon resting on top of the gate wall. In the year that saw the outbreak of the Second World War and shortly before his own death, Klee thus gave visible form to the fundamental membrane – ultimate and concealed – on which the elements in his picture are dependent for their outlines. In the present case this membrane is revealed indeed to be black – but with a silvery light playing across it.

glüht nach, 1939, 925 (YY 5)
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Paul Klee
glüht nach, 1939, 925 (YY 5)

Still Glows
Watercolour and pencil on paper on cardboard, 29.5 x 21 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Although still just recognizable, the figure in this luminous watercolour seems to be on the point of disintegrating into its individual parts. It stands against the Passion field of the picture with its head tilted to one side, its trunk and legs detached from its shoulders. The isolated lineament on the left, resembling a K, might be read as the first letter of the artist’s surname – in which case we might view the small figure as an image of the artist, tormented by illness and the course of developments. Yet this is just one of the possibilities offered by this existential watercolour. At any rate, life in glüht nach – as the title suggests – is ‘still glowing’ and has not yet been extinguished for good.

O! die Gerüchte!, 1939, 1015 (CD 15)
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Paul Klee
O! die Gerüchte!, 1939, 1015 (CD 15)

Oh! These Rumors!
Tempera and oil on burlap, 75.5 x 55 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Towards the end of Klee’s life, the existential content of his art increased.  Two timelines thereby came together, and in many cases fused: that of Klee’s protracted illness, which led to his death on 29 June 1940, and that of political events, which reached a new climax on 1 September 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War. In O! die Gerüchte (Oh! These rumours) this threat is unmistakable: against a flickering background, we see a figure with its arms raised, accompanied by strange small creatures and moving toward the right. It is formed of rudimentary thick lines and surrounded by richly contrasting colour fields: the staring eyes by blue, the mouth by red, and in the top left-hand corner the ears – echoing with the grim rumours of the day – by orange. The figure is in motion, but it cannot escape: awaiting it on all sides are the confining boundaries of the painting. A picture of fear – and at the same time a work in which a great artistic force finds consummate expression despite the desperate circumstances.

MUMOM sinkt trunken in den Sessel, 1940, 301 (H1)
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Paul Klee
MUMOM sinkt trunken in den Sessel, 1940, 301 (H1)

MUMOM, Drunk, Collapses into an Armchair
Coloured paste on paper on cardboard, 29.5 x 21 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Constructed of powerful black lines that affirm the graphic character of the lineaments of Klee’s late work, the drawing MUMOM sinkt trunken in den Sessel (MUMOM, drunk, collapses into an armchair) – dating from 1940 and thus from the final months of the artist’s life – seems positively burlesque. The small figure portrayed here in an otherworldly in-between realm possesses a certain majesty, humorously caricatured but nevertheless wise, as it addresses itself – with its glass raised – to the final earthly things in their Dionysian variety.

Schlamm-Assel-Fisch, 1940, 323 (G 3)
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Paul Klee
Schlamm-Assel-Fisch, 1940, 323 (G 3)

Mud-Woodlouse-Fish
Coloured paste and grease crayon on newspaper on cardboard, 34 x 53.5 cm
Photo: Cantz Medienmanagement, Ostfildern

A sense of paralysis also infuses Schlamm-Assel-Fisch (Mud-Woodlouse-Fish) from 1940, the year in which Klee died. Here, the heavy lines form the skeleton of a fish and at the same time a woodlouse, an arthropod with seven pairs of legs and two tails. This element of mimicry is reinforced by the wordplay contained in the German title, in which the two animals are linked together in the assonant Yiddish word for misfortune, Schlamassel. A striking element is the line of dots around the periphery, which resemble the nails used to stretch canvases on frames. Yet the present work is painted on paper. Klee may have been thinking of the wall-mounted fossil of some primeval hybrid creature caught between sea and land, and at the same time of himself: the artist who found himself mired not only in personal but also in international political misfortune, but who mounted his own vehement resistance to inaction.

Ohne Titel [Gefangen/Diesseits – Jenseits/ Figur], about 1940
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Paul Klee
Ohne Titel [Gefangen/Diesseits – Jenseits/ Figur], about 1940

Untitled [Captive/Figure of This World–Next World]
Oil and coloured paste on primed burlap on burlap, 55.2 x 50.1 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

This work from Klee’s estate, left untitled at his death, holds great significance for the Fondation. Against an impressive background of blue, green and itinerant cloud-like areas of white, we see a figure described by thick black lines. The figure, which is lost in thought, looks as if it is part of a grill structure that is holding it fast, prompting Will Grohmann, Klee’s friend and an early authority on his art, to call the work Gefangen (‘Captive’). But the grating seems no longer fully intact and a release into the matrix of the background only a matter of time. Correspondingly, the painting could be seen as an image balanced on the threshold between life and death, which in turn led Ernst Beyeler to suggest his own title for the work, Diesseits – Jenseits: ‘This world – next world’.

Paul Klee

1879, Münchenbuchsee, nr. Bern – 1940, Locarno – Muralto (Switzerland)

The Swiss-German painter, graphic artist and printmaker began studying art in Munich, but soon left the academy, visiting Italy to study the Old Masters, then Paris to familiarize himself with the work of the Impressionists. He was strongly inspired in his use of colour and contrast by his encounter with August Macke, Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc around 1911, and through his exposure to the work of Robert Delaunay. A journey he made to Tunis in 1914 with Macke and Louis Moillet inspired his subsequent “breakthrough to colour“. He began composing his watercolours like musical scores consisting of coloured squares, wiry, linear motifs and representational forms, and gave them richly evocative poetic titles. In 1919 he turned to oil painting and became interested in exploring cosmic themes. From 1921 onwards he taught at the Bauhaus school, first in Weimar, then in Dessau. In 1924, together with Kandinsky, Feininger and Jawlensky, he founded the artists’ group The Blue Four. In 1930 he took up a teaching post at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Art, but was dismissed in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. He spent the rest of his life in Bern and Locarno.

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