The Diaries of Paul Klee Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

A diary, or any other autobiographical or biographical material concerning a great artist, has interest for two reasons: the light it throws on the personality of the person who produced the art and the help it gives to the understanding of the artist’s work. Klee’s diaries do both.

There is much that is callow in diary 1, which is not surprising since the notes were written by an adolescent. Klee expresses yearnings and sufferings typical of a youth in the late Romantic period; the entries contain many references to stars, to night, to powerful, inexpressible feelings, to a sense of being divine.

In his reticent way, he is careful to delineate his erotic development. Much of this is standard adolescent randiness—for example, naked girls drawn in the margins of a mathematics notebook. (The editor does not indicate if Klee himself selected the drawings used for illustration.) As is normal for an adolescent who is also a genius, this erotic life seems remarkably deep. He had a profound need for femaleness, to the extent that he records an early fantasy of being a girl so he could wear pretty underwear. He was deeply gratified by the company of women and by looking at them. Entry 380 is a remarkable description of a dancer, anatomically technical in the manner of an academically trained artist and at the same time remarkably evocative of her beauty. He concludes with the characteristic phrase “the beauty and the wisdom of the organism as a whole.”

His behavior with women is both that of a young man alone in a city and that of an artist in bohemia (he records his admiration for Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme, 1896). There are vivid evocations of drunken parties with compliant models, yet not a word is salacious.

With comparable reticence, he records his courtship of Lily. He meets her and is deeply attracted. Later, they meet again. Successive lines of entry 145 read:Now she wants to come and have tea at my place. Later she leaves me in the lurch after the St. Matthew’s Passion. Today she asks forgiveness for this. Thursday, April 4th, she is coming! So much for the picture of my precarious position.

Lily appears and disappears in this fashion. He continues with other women. After he returns from Italy (diary 2), all is settled and they are married. Lily was apparently enough to nourish his need for the female; eroticism disappears from the diary and, later, from his work, although he remained deeply sensitive to the feminine and the female dimensions of life, describing the work of the artist as necessarily both. Interestingly, during the early years of their marriage, he was not able to support the family and she was, so he was totally in charge of the housekeeping, cooking, shopping, and caring for the baby.

Diary 2 is short and highly descriptive, the travel experiences of a trained artist constantly observing his surroundings. While there are a few escapades with models, he is in Italy as an artist, seeing. In diary 1, he is primarily personal and mentions his training usually only to complain about the impossible dullness of his teachers. Italy was the first liberation—an exposure to a landscape quite unlike anything he had known and to a great art that was altogether invigorating and liberating.

He makes many sensitive, even penetrating comments on Italian art, but most important are the few comments that reveal the birth of the mature Klee. In entry 399, he says of the colors at Tivoli, “There is moral strength in such colors. I see it just as much as others do. I too shall be able to create it some day. When?” In entry 403, apropos of Sandro Botticelli, he refers to “a spirituality obtained by play of colors.”

In diary 3, he is back in...

(The entire section is 1538 words.)