Paul Klee cannot possibly be classified, his career covered Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstraction and much more besides.
Paul Klee, (born December 18, 1879, Münchenbuchsee, near Bern, Switzerland—died June 29, 1940, Muralto, near Locarno), Swiss-German painter and draftsman who was one of the foremost artists of the 20th century.
Early life and education
Klee’s mother, née Ida Maria Frick of Basel, and his German-born father, Hans Klee, were both trained as musicians. By Swiss law, Paul Klee held his father’s nationality; late in life he applied for Swiss citizenship but died just days before it was granted. A gifted violinist, he briefly considered music as a career, and between 1903 and 1906 he played occasionally in the Bern symphony orchestra. Klee was educated in the classical Literarschule (a literary secondary school) in Bern. As a youth, he wrote poetry and even tried his hand at writing plays. The diaries he kept from 1897 to 1918 are valuable documents rich with detailed accounts of his experiences and his observations on art and literature.
As a boy, Klee did delicate landscape drawings, in which he and his parents saw the promise of a career, and he filled his school notebooks with comic sketches. Upon graduating from the Literarschule in 1898 he left for Munich, which was then the artistic capital of Germany, and enrolled in the private art school of Heinrich Knirr. In 1899 he was admitted to the Munich Academy, which was then under the direction of Franz von Stuck, the foremost painter of Munich. Stuck was a rather strict academic painter of allegorical pictures, but his emphasis on imagination proved invaluable to the young Klee.
Klee completed his artistic education with a six-month visit to Italy before returning to Bern. The beauty of the art of ancient Rome and of the Renaissance led him to question the imitative styles of his teachers and of his own previous work. Giving vent to his generally sardonic attitude toward people and institutions, Klee fell back on his undisputed talent for caricature, making it one of the cornerstones of his art. His first important works, a series of etchings, Inventions, undertaken in 1903–05 after his return from Italy and drawn in a tight technique inspired by Renaissance prints, are grotesque allegories of social pretension, artistic triumph and failure, and the nature and perils of woman.
In 1906 Klee married Lily Stumpf, a pianist whom he had met while an art student, and that year he settled in Munich to pursue his career. His public debut that year—an exhibition of Inventions in Frankfurt am Main and Munich—was largely ignored. He tried to earn a living by writing reviews of art exhibits and concerts, teaching life-drawing classes, and providing illustrations for journals and books. He had one small success as an illustrator: the drawings he did in 1911–12 for Voltaire’s satirical novel Candide. Among his most-accomplished early works, these drawings attempt to capture the humour and universality of Voltaire’s satire by reducing characters, settings, and details to comic flurries of lines. As for Klee’s caricatures, they were rejected as too idiosyncratic, and for many years Klee’s small family—increased to three in 1907 by the birth of their only child, Felix—was supported largely by Lily’s piano lessons.
Over the next several years Klee began to address his relative ignorance of modern French art. In 1905 he visited Paris, where he took special note of the Impressionists, and between 1906 and 1909 he became successively acquainted with the work of the Post-Impressionists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne and of the Belgian artist James Ensor. He also began to explore the expressive possibilities of children’s drawings. These varied influences imparted to his work a freedom of expression and a willfulness of style equaled by few other artists of the time.
Klee caught up with the avant-garde in 1911, when he entered the circle of Der Blaue Reiter, an artists’ organization founded in Munich that year by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and the German painter Franz Marc. Kandinsky was then in the process of formulating his influential theory of abstract art as spiritual expression, and while Klee had only limited tolerance for his mysticism, the Russian artist, together with Marc, showed him how far abstraction and a visionary approach to content could be taken. Klee also came to know a wide variety of French Cubist painting from Der Blaue Reiter exhibitions of 1911–12 and from a visit he made to Paris in April 1912. He was especially impressed with the Orphic Cubism of the French artist Robert Delaunay.
Klee’s own adoption of the abstracted geometric style of the Cubists is seen in a number of drawings he did in 1912–13 that range from comic images of lust and mayhem to symbolic representations of fate. They are not as complex as Cubist compositions—that would come later, after Klee had assimilated his new discovery—but instead resemble, and were largely inspired by, the simple patterns of children’s drawings. Klee joined Cubism to children’s art because both, he believed, returned art to its fundamentals: children’s art by its direct and naive renderings, and Cubism by its timeless geometry. Together with Klee’s taste for caricature, these elements result in a characteristic union of the farcical and the sublime, two seemingly contradictory qualities held in suspension by Klee’s rigorous compositions and later by the beauty of his colour. From Cubism Klee also derived the frequent use of letters and other signs in his works: in Cubism these are usually simple indicators of the objects represented, but with Klee they become objects in their own right, imbuing his scenes with portents and enigmatic significance.
Artistic maturity of Paul Klee
Until 1914 Klee found it difficult to paint; he felt a lack of confidence in his abilities as a colourist, and most of his work to that time had been in black and white. But in April of that year he took a two-week trip to Tunisia with his boyhood friend Louis Moilliet and fellow painter August Macke of Der Blaue Reiter. Klee’s intense response to the North African landscape and the example of Macke’s more-advanced use of Delaunay’s colourful Cubism brought him new assurance as a painter. His lyrical watercolours of Tunisia, in which the landscape is simplified into transparent coloured planes, are his first sustained body of work in colour. They would be the basis, in subject and style, for much of his painting in subsequent years.
As a German citizen, Klee was called up for service in the German army in 1916 during World War I. As a Swiss, he felt little of the patriotic zeal and martial enthusiasm shown by many German artists and intellectuals, and he was spared front-line duty by recently enacted legislation exempting artists from combat. He remained in Bavaria, where he was able to continue his art. Many of the paintings Klee did during the war years are romantic childlike landscapes, where war makes its appearance indirectly in images of demons or conflicts with fate. Their charm proved popular with the public, and his work began to sell.
With the end of the war in 1918, Klee, like many German artists, saw the hope of a new society. His political optimism may explain the exuberance of his work at this time. He continued to paint evocative landscapes, but he returned as well to the farcical imagery he had drawn before the war. He visited the Dadaists in Zürich, and his work approaches theirs in its humour and spirit of absurdity. Among Klee’s most-striking pictures of the postwar period are his oil transfer paintings, created with a distinctive technique he devised in 1919. Essentially coloured drawings, they were made by tracing a drawing—usually onto watercolour paper—through a transfer paper coated with sticky black ink or paint, and colouring the result. Their characteristically fuzzy, spreading lines are unlike anything else in the period and lend a rich patina to Klee’s droll or whimsical images. Among them are such well-known works as Room Perspective with Inhabitants (1921), whose inhabitants dwell not in the room but within the perspective lines that create it; and Twittering Machine (1922), which depicts a comic apparatus for making birds sing.
In 1920 Klee received an appointment to teach at the Bauhaus, the school of modern design founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, by the architect Walter Gropius. Klee’s principal duty, like that of his fellow Bauhaus artists Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy, was to lecture in the basic design program on the mechanics of art. His lectures at the Bauhaus, recorded in more than 3,300 pages of notes and drawings, were a remarkable attempt to show how the formal elements of art—simple linear constructions and geometric motifs—could be used to build complex symbolic compositions. Klee expounded his own methods in the Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (1925; Pedagogical Sketchbook).
The prevalent geometric aesthetic of the 1920s and Klee’s attempts to teach a methodology of art led him to rationalize his own practice as well. His work of the Bauhaus decade is more geometric than before, and the number of forms employed in a given composition is sharply reduced. Among the many types of compositions resulting from this practice are pictures made entirely of coloured squares, horizontal striations, or patterns resembling basket weave and, among his most evocative, a number of paintings in which puzzlingly disparate objects—faces, animals, goblets, heavenly bodies—coexist in a black undifferentiated space.
By the mid-1920s Klee’s reputation had spread far beyond Germany, and in 1925 he received his first one-man show in Paris, the capital of European art. As the decade progressed, his biweekly lectures and administrative duties, and the almost constant tension in the Bauhaus over policy and politics, became increasingly onerous, and in 1931 he resigned for a less-demanding position at the Dusseldorf Academy. He continued to work with geometric forms, most notably in his richly but painstakingly rendered pointillist paintings of 1930–32, with their mosaic-like surfaces of coloured dots—among them his largest single painting to date, Ad Parnassum (1932). But most of his pictures of the early and mid-1930s show varying attempts at loosening his style, with freer compositions and brushwork.
Klee remained at the Dusseldorf Academy until 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power; from then on, it was no longer possible to work in Germany. As a modern artist, Klee was dismissed from his position, and his house and studio were searched by the Gestapo on account of his known left-wing sympathies. Despite these difficulties, Klee continued to produce his art without restraint. The drawings he did at this time are mostly representational and even narrative; many directly reflect the political disturbances of the day, dealing in ironic fashion with demagogy, militarism, political violence, and emigration.
But Klee’s creative activity was not to continue uninterrupted. At the end of 1933 he returned to the relative artistic isolation of Switzerland, where the disruptions caused by his move, along with his sudden financial uncertainty, took a toll on both the quality and quantity of his work. His difficulties were compounded in the summer of 1935 by the onset of an incurable illness. At first misdiagnosed as a variety of lesser ailments, it was eventually recognized as scleroderma, an affliction in which the body’s connective tissues become fibrous. Its severe initial symptoms, which ranged from a rash to glandular disturbances and respiratory and digestive difficulties, left Klee incapable of working for over a year. But in 1937 the temporary remission of his illness led to a remarkable outpouring of creative energy that was sustained until only a few months before his death in 1940.
Klee’s late paintings and drawings are strongly influenced by the harsh distortions of Pablo Picasso’s work of the 1920s and ’30s. What the Spanish master gave to Klee in these final years was a means of expressing the urgency Klee felt as his health declined. The small details and delicate shadings and tints that had given his previous work its characteristic refinement are replaced by bold, simple strokes and a new intensity of colour. The sense of humour in these last works is now muted by the gravity of Klee’s style and above all by images of dying and death. Among such works are wry drawings of angels (1939–40), who are still half-attached by memories and desires to their former selves, and Death and Fire (1940), Klee’s evocation of the underworld, in which a rueful face of death is placed in an infernal setting of fiery red. These late images are among the most memorable of all Klee’s works and are some of the most significant depictions of death in the history of art.
Legacy of Paul Klee
Though Klee belonged to no movement, he assimilated, and even anticipated, most of the major artistic tendencies of his time in his work. Using both representational and abstract approaches, he produced an immense oeuvre of some 9,000 paintings, drawings, and watercolours in a great variety of styles. His works tend to be small in scale and are remarkable for their delicate nuances of line, colour, and tonality. In Klee’s highly sophisticated art, irony and a sense of the absurd are joined to an intense evocation of the mystery and beauty of nature. Claiming art to be a parable of the Creation, Klee represented everything from human figures and foibles to landscapes and microcosms of the plant and animal kingdoms, all with an eye that mocked as much as it praised; he was one of the great humorists of 20th-century art and its supreme ironist. Music figures prominently in his work—in his many images of opera and musicians, and to some extent as a model for his compositions. But literature had the greater pull on him; his art is steeped in poetic and mythic allusion, and the titles he gave to his pictures tend to charge them with additional meanings. Klee’s work was too personal to found a school or style, but it has had wide and profound influence.
Paul Klee’s Biography
Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was born in Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland, and is considered both a German and 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 mastered colour theory, and wrote extensively about it; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are considered so important for modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.
FORMER ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA EDITOR
Naomi Blumberg was Assistant Editor, Arts and Culture for Encyclopaedia Britannica. She covered topics related to art history, architecture, theatre, dance, literature, and music.
Before becoming an editor at Britannica, she worked as a curator and exhibition developer in art and history museums in Boston and Chicago. She holds a B.A. from Barnard College in art history and an M.A. from Tufts University in art history and museum studies.
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 mastered colour theory, and wrote extensively about it; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are considered so important for modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.
Early life and training
Paul Klee was born as the second child of the German music teacher Hans Wilhelm Klee (1849-1940) and the Swiss singer Ida Marie Klee, nee Frick (1855-1921). His sister Mathilde (died 6 December 1953) was born on 28 January 1876 in Walzenhausen. Their father came from Tann and studied at the Stuttgart Conservatory singing, piano, organ and violin, where he met his future wife Ida Frick. Until 1931 Hans Wilhelm Klee was active as a music teacher at the Bern State Seminary in Hofwil near Bern. Due to this circumstances, Klee was able to develop his music skills through his parental home; his parents backed and inspired him until his death. In 1880, his family moved to Bern, where they moved 17 years later after numerous changes of residence into a house at the Kirchenfeld district. From 1886 to 1890, Klee visited the primary school and received, at the age of 7, violin classes at the Municipal Music School. He was so talented on violin that, aged 11, he received an invitation to play as an exceptional member of the Bern Music Association.
In his early years, following his parent’s wishes, he focused on becoming a musician; but he decided on the visual arts during his teen years, partly out of rebellion and partly because of a belief that modern music lacked meaning for him. He stated, “I didn’t find the idea of going in for music creatively particularly attractive in view of the decline in the history of musical achievement.” As a musician, he played and felt emotionally bound to traditional works of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, but as an artist he craved the freedom to explore radical ideas and styles. At sixteen, Klee’s landscape drawings already show considerable skill.
Around 1897, he started his diary, which he kept until 1918, and which has provided scholars with valuable insight into his life and thinking. During his school years, he avidly drew in his school books, in particular drawing caricatures, and already demonstrating skill with line and volume. He barely passed his final exams at the “Gymnasium” of Bern, where he qualified in the Humanities. With his characteristic dry wit, he wrote, “After all, it’s rather difficult to achieve the exact minimum, and it involves risks.” On his own time, in addition to his deep interests in music and art, Klee was a great reader of literature, and later a writer on art theory and aesthetics.
With his parents’ reluctant permission, 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. He later recalled, “During the third winter I even realized that I probably would never learn to paint.” During these times of youthful adventure, Klee spent much time in pubs and had affairs with lower class women and artists’ models. He had an illegitimate son in 1900 who died several weeks after birth.
After receiving his Fine Arts degree, Klee went to Italy from October 1901 to May 1902 with friend Hermann Haller. They stayed in Rome, Florence, and Naples, and studied the master painters of past centuries. He exclaimed, “The Forum and the Vatican have spoken to me. Humanism wants to suffocate me.” He responded to the colors of Italy, but sadly noted, “that a long struggle lies in store for me in this field of color.” For Klee, color represented the optimism and nobility in art, and a hoped for relief from the pessimistic nature he expressed in his black-and-white grotesques and satires. 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 fifty-seven works including his Portrait of My Father (1906). 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. He commented, “though I’m fairly satisfied with my etchings I can’t go on like this. I’m not a specialist.” Klee was still dividing his time with music, playing the violin in an orchestra and writing concert and theater reviews.
Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf in 1906 and they had one son named Felix Paul in the following year. They lived in a suburb of Munich, and while she gave piano lessons and occasional performances, he kept house and tended to his art work. His attempt to be a magazine illustrator failed. Klee’s art work progressed slowly for the next five years, partly from having to divide his time with domestic matters, and partly as he tried to find a new approach to his art. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which then traveled to three Swiss cities.
Affiliation to the “Blaue Reiter”, 1911
In January 1911 Alfred Kubin met Klee in Munich encouraging him to illustrate Voltaires Candide. Around this time, Klee’s graphical work saw an increase, and his early inclination towards the absurd and the sarcastic was well received by Kubin. He did not only befriend Klee but he was also one of his first significant collectors. Klee met, through Kubin, the art critic Wilhelm Hausenstein in 1911, and was in the summer that year foundation member and manager of the Munich artists’ union Sema. In autumn he made an acquaintance with August Macke and Wassily Kandinsky, and in winter he joined the editorial team of the almanach Der Blaue Reiter, founded by Franz Marc and Kandinsky. On meeting Kandinsky, Klee recorded, “I came to feel a deep trust in him. He is somebody, and has an exceptionally beautiful and lucid mind.” Other members including Macke, Gabriele Munter and Marianne von Werefkin. Klee progressed in a few months of his assistance to one of the most important and independent members of the Blaue Reiter, but he was not yet fully integrated.
The release of the almanach was delayed for the benefit of an exhibition. The first Blaue Reiter exhibition took place from 18 December 1911 to 1 January 1912 in the Moderne Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser in Munich. Klee did not attend it, but in the second exhibition, occurred from 12 February to 18 March 1912 in the Galerie Goltz, 17 of his graphical works were showed. The name of this art exhibition was Schwarz-Weiß, as it only regarded graphic painting. Initially planned to be released in 1911, the release date of the Der Blau Reiter almanach by Kandinsky and Marc was delayed in May 1912, including the reproducted ink drawing Steinhauer by Klee. At the same time, Kandinsky published his art history writing Uber das Geistige in der Kunst.
Participation on art exhibitions, 1912/1913
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 Delaunayand 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, including In the Quarry (1913) and Houses near the Gravel Pit(1913), using blocks of color with limited overlap. Klee acknowledged that “a long struggle lies in store for me in this field of color” in order to reach his “distant noble aim.” Soon, he discovered “the style which connects drawing and the realm of color.”
While Klee was in Paris, he was able to access Post-Impresionism works of Paul Cezane and Vincent van Gogh. “Permit me to be scared stiff,” Klee said after seeing van Gogh’s paintings. Van Gogh influenced Klee’s use of color to express emotion, his simplified or distorted drawing, and his sacrifice of realistic illusions of depth to an emphatic surface pattern.
Trip to Tunis, 1914
Kleee’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. He wrote, “Colour has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever… Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” With that realization, faithfulness to nature fades 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”. One of the most literal examples of this new synthesis is The Bavarian Don Giovanni (1919).
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. His selection of a particular color palette emulates a musical key. 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. At first, Klee was somewhat detached from it, as he wrote ironically, “I have long had this war in me. That is why, inwardly, it is none of my concern.” Soon, however, it began to affect him. His friends Macke and Marc both died in battle. Venting his distress, he created several pen and ink lithographs on war themes including Death for the Idea (1915). He also continued with abstracts and semi-abstracts. In 1916, he joined the German war effort, but with behind the scenes maneuvering by his father, Klee was spared serving at the front and ended up painting camouflage on airplanes and working as a clerk.
He continued to paint during the entire war and managed to exhibit in several shows. By 1917, Kleee’s work was selling well and art critics acclaimed him as the best of the new German artists. His Ab ovo (1917) is particularly noteworthy for its sophisticated technique. It employs watercolor on gauze and paper with a chalk ground, which produces a rich texture of triangular, circular, and crescent patterns. Demonstrating his range of exploration, mixing color and line, his Warning of the Ships(1918) is a colored drawing filled with symbolic images on a field of suppressed color.
In 1919, Klee applied for a teaching post at the Academy of Art in Dusseldorf. This attempt failed but he had a major success in securing a three-year contract (with a minimum annual income) with dealer Hans Goltz, whose influential gallery gave Klee major exposure, and some commercial success. A retrospective of over 300 works in 1920 was also notable.
Klee taught at the Bauhaus from January, 1921 to April, 1931. He was a “Form” master in the bookbinding, stained glass, and mural painting workshops and was provided with two studios. In 1922, Kandinsky joined the staff and resumed his friendship with Klee. Later that year the first Bauhaus exhibition and festival was held, for which Klee created several of the advertising materials. And in the same year, the first series of Bauhaus books is published with works by Gropius (International Architecture), Paul Klee, Adolf Meyer, Oskar Schlemmer, and Piet Mondrian. Klee welcomed that there were many conflicting theories and opinions within the Bauhaus: “I also approve of these forces competing one with the other if the result is achievement.”
Klee was also a member of Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four), with Kandinsky, Feininger, and Jawlensky; formed in 1923, they lectured and exhibited together in the USA in 1925. That same year, Klee had his first exhibits in Paris, and he became a hit with the French Surrealists. Klee visited Egypt in 1928, which impressed him less than Tunisia. In 1929, the first major monograph on Klee’s work was published, written by Will Grohmann.
Klee also taught at the Dusseldorf Academy from 1931 to 1933, and was singled out by a Nazi newspaper, “Then that great fellow Klee comes onto the scene, already famed as a Bauhaus teacher in Dessau. He tells everyone he’s a thoroughbred Arab, but he’s a typical Galician Jew.” His home was searched by the Gestapo and he was fired from his job. His self-portrait Struck from the List(1933) commemorates the sad occasion. In 1933-4, Klee had shows in London and Paris, and finally met Pablo Picasso, whom he greatly admired. The Klee family emigrated to Switzerland in late 1933.
Klee was at the peak of his creative output. His Ad Parnassum (1932) is considered his masterpiece and the best example of his pointillist style; it is also one of his largest, most finely worked paintings. He produced nearly 500 works in 1933 during his last year in Germany. However, in 1933, Klee began experiencing the symptoms of what was diagnosed as scleroderma after his death. The progression of his fatal disease, which made swallowing very difficult, can be followed through the art he created in his last years. His output in 1936 was only 25 pictures. In the later 1930s, his health recovered somewhat and he was encouraged by a visit from Kandinsky and Picasso. 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. His varied color palettes, some with bright colors and others sober, perhaps reflected his alternating moods of optimism and pessimism. Back in Germany in 1937, when Nazis took control of the government, seventeen of Klee’s pictures, along with other works of contemporary avant-garde artists, such as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky, were included in an exhibition of “Degenerate art” and 102 of his works in public collections were seized by the Nazis.
Klee suffered from a wasting disease, scleroderma, toward the end of his life, enduring pain that seems to be reflected in his last works of art. One of his last paintings, Death and Fire, features a skull in the center with the German word for death, “Tod”, appearing in the face. He died in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on 29 June 1940 without having obtained Swiss citizenship, despite his birth in that country. His art work was considered too revolutionary, even degenerate, by the Swiss authorities, but eventually they accepted his request six days after his death. His legacy comprises about 9,000 works of art. The words on his tombstone, Klee’s credo, placed there by his son Felix, say, “I cannot be grasped in the here and now, For my dwelling place is as much among the dead, As the yet unborn, Slightly closer to the heart of creation than usual, But still not close enough.” He was buried at Schosshaldenfriedhof, Bern, Switzerland.
Paul Klee Quotes
“A drawing is simply a line going for a walk. ”
– Paul Klee
“A line is a dot that went for a walk.”
– Paul Klee
“A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller. ”
– Paul Klee
“Beauty is as relative as light and dark. Thus, there exists no beautiful woman, none at all, because you are never certain that a still far more beautiful woman will not appear and completely shame the supposed beauty of the first. ”
– Paul Klee
“Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age. ”
– Paul Klee
“Color possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.”
– Paul Klee
“Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.”
– Paul Klee
“He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.”
– Paul Klee
“In the final analysis, a drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol, and the more profoundly the imaginary lines of projection meet higher dimensions, the better.”
– Paul Klee
“Nature is garrulous to the point of confusion, let the artist be truly taciturn.”
– Paul Klee
“One does not lash hat lies at a distance. The foibles that we ridicule must at least be a little bit our own. Only then will the work be a part of our own flesh. The garden must be weeded.”
– Paul Klee
“One eye sees, the other feels.”
“- Paul Klee
“The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions.”
– Paul Klee
“The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.”
“- Paul Klee
“The worst state of affairs is when science begins to concern itself with art.”
– Paul Klee
“To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.”
– Paul Klee
“When looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed. ”
– Paul Klee