Who Was Paul Klee?

By Antonia Čirjak on January 31 2020 in Society

Black columns in landscape, by Paul Klee
Black columns in landscape, by Paul Klee

Paul Klee was an artist from Switzerland who had a style influenced by art styles ranging from Expressionism to Surrealism. Klee (born in 1879; died in 1940), was a very experimental artist who was exploring the theory of colors throughout most of his life. He wrote about it in his many lectures titled 'Writings on Form and Design Theory'. Those lectures are of exceptionally high importance to the art world of modern times.

Some people compare the influence his written words have to that Leonardo Da Vinci had on the Renaissance. Those lectures were published in English under the name The Paul Klee Notebooks. He was a teacher in Germany, at the Bauhaus school of art, design, and architecture. He is known for his particular sense of humor and infantility, often reflected in his art.

The Style Of Paul Klee

Throughout his life, Klee has been tied to numerous movements in art, such as Futurism, Cubism, Abstraction, and many more. However, his style is almost impossible to label with a name. He always worked by himself and gave his interpretations of modern art trends. He used a variety of techniques, such as oil paint, ink, etching, pastel, and watercolor, among many others. He is also known for combining a multitude of techniques in a single painting. He would mix oil with tempera or oil with ink to achieve marvelous results. His works were painted mostly on canvas, gauze, linen, fabric, and newsprint.

Cold city, by Paul Klee
Cold city, by Paul Klee

Paul Klee's works can range from extremely colorful to monochrome. There is often an almost infantile quality to his work, and all of them are highly personal. His work was not grandiose, the scale was always small, but they allowed us to feel like we’re getting to know the author up close and personal. He is known for using geometry, numbers, and letters in his work, often combining them with people or animals. He was no stranger to expressing his political views through his paintings as well. Klee knew how to play the violin, and his love of music can also be seen in his paintings.

The Works Of Paul Klee

The earliest preserved works of Paul Klee are the drawings he made as a child. His grandmother kept all of them. His work during life in his hometown of Bern was presented under the title “Inventions.” It collects ten of his early works. That was his first public appearance as a painter, in 1906. His early work was influenced by cultural pessimism and grotesque poetry; they were satirical. During that time, Klee invented a new technique, using a needle to scratch on a darkened glass panel. His early years were marked by working in solitude, but in 1911 he started to become associated with other artists.

Mural from the temple of longing thiter, by Paul Klee
Mural from the temple of longing thither, by Paul Klee

In 1914 Klee went on a trip to Tunis that greatly inspired him. He started producing watercolor work inspired by the paintings of Paul Cézanne and the form concepts of cubism. That work featured sharp contrasts of light and color, while the scenery was expressed in a grid. Some of the works during that time are “In the Houses of Saint-Germain” and “Colored Circles Tied Through Inked Ribbons.” This entire period that lasted around five years was very abstract. Another important work during this period is “Velvetbells.” It was created in 1917, inspired by Klee’s military service days.

Klee’s Work In Later Years

Starting in 1919, Klee would use oil colors more often. He would combine colored pencils and watercolors with them, creating some of his most famous works. Paintings like “The Villa” combine realistic everyday objects with abstract ideas and sentiments. During the time he was working as a teacher in the Bauhaus school of art, design, and architecture, he produced some of his more abstract paintings. Some of the most famous ones are “Camel (in rhythmic landscape with trees)” and “The Twittering Machine.” The latter was removed from the National Gallery because it was considered to be insulting. It is now held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and it is one of the more famous images exhibited there.

Great hall for singers, by Paul Klee, 1930
Great hall for singers, by Paul Klee, 1930

Later on, during the 1930s, Klee left Bauhaus, which was soon closed down by the Nazis and moved to Düsseldorf. He made a series of illustrations featuring guardian angels in this period. The most famous one is titled “In the Angel’s Care.” Another famous painting from this era is “Ad Parnassum,” one of the largest paintings on which he ever worked. Once again, Klee combined various techniques and rules of composition. He also traveled through Egypt, which greatly influenced his work and worldview.

After moving to Switzerland in the second half of the 1930s, he continued to produce larger paintings, dealing with contradicting themes of his life, fate, and the political situation. During that time, his work was much darker, exhibiting his bitterness and sadness.    

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