In 1933, Nazi students at more than 30 German universities pillaged libraries in search of books they considered to be “un-German.” Among the writings thrown into the flames were political texts, literature, and even art books by or about such noted figures as Paul Klee.
Born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland on this day in 1879, Klee was the son of a German music teacher and a Swiss singer. An accomplished violinist, Klee played in a symphony orchestra before dedicating himself to becoming a painter. He brought a musical sense of rhythm to the visual arts.
Sketching landscapes and caricatures even in his early teens, Klee began keeping meticulous records of all his creations in 1911, whether panel paintings, works on paper, graphics, or sculptures. He studied dots, lines, planes, and forms observed from nature—whether from the fish tank he kept at home or the veins seen on leaves or the human body—applying his observations to a vast body of work.
From 1921, German-Swiss painter and graphic artist Paul Klee (1879–1940) taught at the Bauhaus—the school of art, architecture, and design founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. In 1931, shortly before the Bauhaus closed under Nazi pressure, Klee moved to Düsseldorf to teach at the Düsseldorf Academy. The Nazis deemed his art “degenerate,” and monographs about Klee were banished and burned.
Seventeen of Klee’s paintings were later displayed at the Nazi “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich in 1937. Klee himself had left Germany in 1933 and settled in Bern, Switzerland.
Klee’s use of irony is inspired by the philosopher Friedrich Schlegel: “Everything in it must be a joke, and everything must be serious: everything must be offered up with an open heart, and profoundly concealed.” This new approach also explores Klee’s relationship with his peers and the artistic movements
of his time.
Klee was not only a visual artist, but also a musician. The son of a music teacher and a singer, who already played professional concerts in his youth, found it difficult to decide between the two professions. Although he eventually decided in favour of painting, his close affinity with music never waned: all his life he was an impassioned violinist and an enthusiastic and critical attendee of concerts and opera performances, especially in Munich.
With around 40 paintings, watercolours and drawings from 1914 to 1939, Galerie Thomas illustrates how Klee was preoccupied with music throughout all phases of his creative life. They include known works, as well as those that have only rarely been seen in exhibitions, if at all, until now. The highlight of the exhibition is the painting The Singer L. as Fiordiligi, 1923, a work that Klee not only prepared very carefully, but also repeated several times.
He recreated the figure no less than five times, more than any other motif in his oeuvre. Two versions can be seen in the exhibition: the first work from 1923 and the subsequent hand-coloured lithograph of 1923, which was derived from it and which Klee gave away only to selected collectors. Another version is owned by the Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich, and will be simultaneously on display in the exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne.
The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections highlighting each stage in Klee’s artistic development: “Satirical beginnings” (the early years); “Klee and Cubism”; “Mechanical theatre” (in line with Dada and Surrealism); “Klee and Constructivism” (the Bauhaus years in Dessau); “Looking back” (the 1930’s); “Klee and Picasso” (Klee’s reaction after the Picasso retrospective in Zurich in 1932); and “The crisis years” (marked by Nazi policies, war and illness)