The work of the Swiss master of Modernism Paul Klee — who once famously described drawing as ‘taking a line for a walk’ — forms one of the most important and beautiful oeuvres in the 20th century. A defining voice of 1920s Bauhaus, he began his career in the dying days of the German Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, before becoming an important proponent of the Expressionist ‘Blue Rider’ movement of the 1910s.
By the 1920s, he had forged a unique aesthetic of abstraction that, as he once said, ‘does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.’ Klee’s approach to art may have involved a cerebral, theoretical and spiritual questioning of objective reality, but it also left an enduring legacy of artistic lyricism and often-humorous whimsicality.
Born in 1879, as a child Klee was a musical prodigy, but gave up the violin to study art in Munich in 1898. There, he became influenced by the Jugendstil’s ideas of higher spiritual realities beyond the visible world that he would develop into his own complex artistic theories.
In 1912, exhibiting with Kandinsky’s Blue Rider movement, the majority of his paintings were in black and white, but in 1914 there was a dramatic change to his palette. A trip through Tunisia, combined with earlier exposures to Cubism and Orphism, produced artworks like The Niesen (1915), announcing the beginning of Klee’s lifelong love affair with colour.
By 1920, Klee was teaching at the Bauhaus, and producing a vast range of prints and painting. Some, such as Static-Dynamic Gradation (1923), were theoretical examinations of pure colour-field abstraction; others, like his iconic Twittering Machine (1922), saw Klee take a draughtsman’s line for a surrealistic biomorphic walk; while Fish Magic (1925) conjured a fantastical realm of aquatic, earthly and celestial forms.
Klee remained fascinated with the art of children and the insane, believing that it should be ‘taken very seriously, more seriously than all the public galleries’; works such as Cat and Bird (1928) evoke such childlike creativity. Towards the end of his life, forced to flee Germany by the rise of Nazism, his own work would become vilified by Hitler’s regime as ‘degenerate’.
Klee died in 1940. His paintings, watercolours and drawings continue to command top prices at auction: in 2011, the world auction record for the artist was set at Christie’s London with the sale of Tänzerin for £4,185,250.