Paul Klee

Paul Klee was a Swiss painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was also a student of orientalism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually got deep into color theory, writing about it extensively. Writings on Form and Design Theory are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci's A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture.

Paul Klee was born as the child of a German music teacher and a singer. Klee was able to develop his music skills as his parents encouraged and inspired him until his death. He received, at the age of 7, violin classes, really talented, he received an invitation to play as an extraordinary member of the Bern Music Association. In his early years, he focused on becoming a musician; but he decided on the visual arts during his teen years. He barely passed his final exams at the "Gymnasium" of Bern, where he qualified in the Humanities. In 1898, he began studying art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich with Heinrich Knirr and Franz von Stuck. He excelled at drawing but seemed to lack any natural color sense.

After receiving his Fine Arts degree, Klee went to Italy (1901-1902). Returning to Bern, he lived with his parents for several years, and took occasional art classes. By 1905, he was developing some experimental techniques, including drawing with a needle on a blackened pane of glass, resulting in 57 works. In the years 1903-5 he also completed a cycle of eleven zinc-plate etchings called Inventions, his first exhibited works, in which he illustrated several grotesque characters. Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf in 1906 and they had one son named Felix Paul in the following year. They lived in Munich. His attempt to be a magazine illustrator failed. Klee’s art work progressed slowly for the next five years. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which then traveled to three Swiss cities. Around this time, Klee's graphic work increased. His early inclination towards the absurd and the sarcastic was well received by Kubin, who befriended Klee and became one of his first significant collectors.

Klee joined the editorial team of the almanac Der Blaue Reiter, founded by Franz Marc and Kandinsky. Klee exhibited at the second Blaue Reiter exhibition where 17 of his graphic works were shown. The association opened his mind to modern theories of color. His travels to Paris in 1912 also exposed him to the ferment of Cubism and the pioneering examples of "pure painting", an early term for abstract art. The use of bold color by Robert Delaunay and Maurice de Vlaminck also inspired him. Rather than copy these artists, Klee began working out his own color experiments in pale watercolors and did some primitive landscapes, using blocks of colour with limited overlap.

Klee’s artistic breakthrough came in 1914 when he briefly visited Tunisia with August Macke and Louis Moilliet and was impressed by the quality of the light there. With that realization, faithfulness to nature faded in importance. Instead, Klee began to delve into the "cool romanticism of abstraction". In gaining a second artistic vocabulary, Klee added color to his abilities in draftsmanship, and in many works combined them successfully, as he did in one series he called "operatic paintings". After returning home, Klee painted his first pure abstract, In the Style of Kairouan (1914), composed of colored rectangles and a few circles. The colored rectangle became his basic building block, what some scholars associate with a musical note, which Klee combined with other colored blocks to create a color harmony analogous to a musical composition. Sometimes he uses complementary pairs of colors, and other times "dissonant" colors, again reflecting his connection with musicality.

A few weeks later, World War I began. Klee was conscripted as a Landsturmsoldat (soldier of the reserve forces in Prussia or Imperial Germany) on 5 March 1916. The deaths of his friends August Macke and Franz Marc in battle began to affect him. Venting his distress, he created several pen and ink lithographs on war themes. He continued to paint during the entire war and managed to exhibit in several shows. By 1917, Klee’s work was selling well and art critics acclaimed him as the best of the new German artists. In 1919, he had a major success in securing a three-year contract with dealer Hans Goltz, whose influential gallery gave Klee major exposure, and some commercial success. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from January 1921 to April 1931. In 1922, Kandinsky joined the staff and resumed his friendship with Klee. Klee was also a member of Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four), with Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, and Alexej von Jawlensky. Klee also became a hit with the French Surrealists.

With the arrival of the nazi, his home was searched by the Gestapo and he was fired from his job. In 1933-4, Klee had shows in London and Paris, and finally met Pablo Picasso, whom he greatly admired. Klee was at the peak of his creative output. He produced nearly 500 works in 1933 during his last year in Germany before moving to Switzerland. However, in 1933, Klee began experiencing the symptoms of what was diagnosed as scleroderma after his death. Klee's simpler and larger designs enabled him to keep up his output in his final years, and in 1939 he created over 1,200 works, a career high for one year. He used heavier lines and mainly geometric forms with fewer but larger blocks of color. Back in Germany in 1937, 17 of Klee's pictures were included in an exhibition of "Degenerate art" and 102 of his works in public collections were seized by the Nazis. Klee endured pain until the end. He died on 29 June 1940 without having obtained Swiss citizenship, despite his birth in that country. His legacy comprises about 9,000 works of art.

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