Paul Klee

Klee, Paul (poul klā) [key], 1879–1940, Swiss painter, graphic artist, and art theorist, b. near Bern. Klee's enormous production (more than 10,000 paintings, drawings, and etchings) is unique in that it represents the successful combination of his sophisticated theories of art with a very personal inventiveness that has the appearance of great innocence. The son of a music teacher, Klee himself was a violinist, and musical analogies permeate his writing and his approach to art. He traveled through Europe, open to many artistic influences. The most important of these were the works of Blake, Beardsley, Goya, Ensor, and, especially, Cézanne. In 1911 he became associated with the Blaue Reiter group and later exhibited as one of the Blue Four. Klee's awakening to color occurred on a trip to Tunis in 1914, a year after he had met Delaunay and been made aware of new theories of color use. Thereafter his whimsical and fantastic images were rendered with a luminous and subtle color sense.

Klee's works are neither abstract nor figurative, but have strong elements of both approaches. Characteristic of his gently witty paintings are The Twittering Machine (1922, Mus. of Modern Art, New York City) and Fish Magic (1925, Phila. Mus. of Art). Other works reveal strong, rhythmic patterns, as in the unsettling Viaducts Break Ranks (1937, Hamburg). World famous by 1929, Klee taught at the Bauhaus (1920–31) and at the Düsseldorf academy (1931–33) until the Nazis, who judged his work degenerate, forced him to resign. He and his family fled Germany for his native city in 1933. In his series of Pedagogical Sketchbooks (tr. 1944) and lecture notes entitled The Thinking Eye (tr. 1961), Klee sought to define his intuitive approach to artistic creation. His last ten years were spent in Switzerland, and some 4,000 of his works are in the Paul Klee Center, Bern.

See his notebooks, ed. by J. Spiller (2 vol., tr. 1992); his diaries, ed. by his son Felix Klee (tr. 1964); his life and work in documents, ed. by F. Klee (tr. 1962); studies by J. M. Joran (1984), C. Lanchner, ed. (1987), O. K. Werckmeister (1989), and M. Franciscono (1991).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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