Paul Klee (1879-1940)
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Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Trauerblumen (Mourning Flowers)

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Trauerblumen (Mourning Flowers)
signed 'Klee' (upper left); dated, numbered and inscribed '1917 132 Trauerblumen' (on the artist's mount)
watercolour and pen and ink on paper laid down on the artist's mount
image: 9 1/8 x 5 3/4 in. (23.2 x 14.7 cm.)
artist's mount: 10 1/4 x 7 in. (26 x 18 cm.)
Executed in 1917
Galerie Neue Kunst - Hans Goltz, Munich, by whom acquired directly from the artist in summer 1918.
Karl Julius Anselmino, Wuppertal, by whom acquired before 1956.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Letter from Paul Klee to Lily Klee, 3 July 1918, in F. Klee, Briefe an die Familie 1893-1940, vol. II, 1907-1940, Cologne, 1979, p. 924-925.
M. Huggler, 'Paul Klee', in Künstler Lexikon der Schweiz: XX. Jahrhundert, vol. I, Frauenfeld, 1958-1961 p. 524.
M. Huggler, Paul Klee: Die Malerei als Blick in den Kosmos, Frauenfeld, 1969, pp. 49-50 & 123.
C. Geelhaar, Paul Klee: Leben und Werk, Cologne, 1974, no. 38, p. 37 (illustrated pl. 38).
R. Verdi, Klee and Nature, London, 1984, pp. 135-136 & 147 (illustrated fig. 122, p. 134).
P. Comte, Klee, Paris, 1989, no. 97, p. 74 (illustrated pl. 97).
M. Franciscono, Paul Klee: His Work and Thought, Chicago & London, 1991, p. 210.
E.-G. Güse, ed., Paul Klee: Dialogue with Nature, Munich, 1991, pp. 62 & 160 (illustrated p. 63).
D. Zbikowsky, 'Zeichen und Erinnerung - Zur Bedeutung der altägyptischen Schriftkultur im Werk Paul Klees', in exh. cat., Paul Klee: Reisen in den Süden, Reisefieber praecisiert, Ostfildern, 1997, p. 89.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, 1913-1918, Bern, 2000, no. 1816, p. 424 (illustrated).
Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Paul Klee, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, Gabriele Münter, December 1917, no. 26
Munich, Galeriestrasse 26, Neue Münchner Secession, IV. Ausstellung, June - October 1918, no. 86, p. 20.
Wuppertal, Kunst- und Museumsverein, Paul Klee 1879-1940: Werke aus Jahren 1904 bis 1940, January - February 1956, no. 11, p. 3.
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Paul Klee: Ausstellung in Verbindung mit der Paul-Klee-Stiftung, August - November 1956, no. 408, p. 68.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, December 1956 - January 1957, no. 74, p. 15.
Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, 2. Internationale der Zeichnung, July - September 1967, no. 23, p. 293 (illustrated).
Cologne, Kunsthalle, Weltkunst aus Privatbesitz, May - August 1968, no. G3 (illustrated pl. 1).
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Paul Klee: Das Frühwerk 1883-1922, December 1979 - March 1980, no. 329 (illustrated).
Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, Paul Klee: Wachstum regt sich, Klees Zwiesprache mit der Natur, March - May 1990, no. 32 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Karlsruhe, Prinz-Max-Palais, June - August 1990.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan Vital oder Das Auge des Eros, May - August 1994, no. 295, p. 557 (illustrated pl. 99).
On loan to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, by 1979 and until at least 1994 (inv. no. L.1664).
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'On some solemn night, Klee planted in the most secret of places the germ of his self-contained selfhood. From then on, all the threads that he had meant to spin turned into tender roots. And what he has since been able to draw out of his soul has become rootedness. He is said to have spent a solar year in Tunis. The plant shot up at once. Now it is putting forth flowers: his fiery watercolours. But the self is developing further: when Klee draws, new roots sprout forth: and colourful flowers emerge when he paints, poetry composed in colours.'
T. Däubler, Das Kunstblatt, vol. 2, no. 1, 1918, p. 24.

Paul Klee painted Trauerblumen (Mourning Flowers) while stationed at an airport base near Gersthofen in Southern Germany at the height of the First World War. One of the artist’s finest watercolours from this early period in his career, Trauerblumen is an exquisitely crafted picture in which Klee has begun, for the first time, to pictorially explore the emotional life of plants and nature. Klee would later, throughout much of the 1920s, often combine human and vegetal motifs in his work. But it is here, for the first time, in a work that explores a universal sense of sadness running throughout all creation, that, using only simple, eloquent and lyrical forms, Klee has attempted to create an image that fuses plant and human life into one poetic image.

Taking the form of a theatrical, almost, stage-like presentation of a scene in which plants with human forms like eyes and tears float against a warm sunset sky above a landscape of mountains, Klee has here attempted to render a scene in which a human emotion – sadness – is seen to permeate through all life. In this way, the whole of nature, as well as of man, and the chthonic relationship between the two, is invoked through the simple, graphic poetry of Klee’s intuitive line and subtle colour.

As the art historian Richard Verdi has written about this work in his study on Klee’s intense relationship with Nature, ‘In Sad Flowers […] Klee creates one of his earliest and most heart-rending evocations of the darker side of plant emotions,’ pointing out that ‘too precise an interpretation would obviously deprive [the work] of much of its poetry.’ Verdi asserts that what is of key importance to this work is that ‘whether it is plants or man who are subject to [the] emotion [here expressed] is less important than the emotion itself as Klee senses it behind all of nature. […] the eyes and tears […] and […] the drooping and dejected blossoms, when combined […] permit Klee to create a poignant image of universal sorrow – of a sorrow which is as real and as intense at the bottom of the hierarchy of life as it is at the top’ (R. Verdi, Klee and Nature, London, 1984, pp. 135-136).

Among Klee’s most lyrical and exquisite early watercolours, Trauerblumen is one of the best-known and most important of Klee’s early pictures. As a letter to his family from Gertshofen in July 1918 records, the watercolour was acquired directly from the artist by his dealer in Munich, Hans Goltz. It was subsequently acquired from Goltz by the important German Expressionist collector, Professor Karl Anselmino. Works by Klee formed the mainstay of Prof. Anslemino’s collection who also acquired major works by Lyonel Feininger, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Beckmann, an artist whom he befriended in New York in the last months of his life.

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