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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606

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Paul Klee’s diaries actually consist of four notebooks which he carefully maintained, even edited and revised, throughout the twenty years of his apprenticeship until full maturity. Strictly speaking, they are not diaries but journals containing materials of various kinds, sometimes more revealing for what they do not tell than for what they do tell. Weeks go by with no entry at all; sometimes successive days are covered by one-sentence notes notable only for their banality. There are sharply described vignettes of events, usually involving social activities with friends. There are poems, lists of words that make the end rhymes for unwritten poems, thoughts on random matters, comments on musical events (Klee was an accomplished musician and music critic), and copies of a few letters received, one or two letters he sent, even letters received by other people. In Klee’s mind, the diaries clearly have a coherence that is not always evident to the reader.

Klee was a very private, reticent man. Very few entries fully reveal his private feelings. He makes discreet reference to behavior that he considered less than admirable, but does not describe it. For example, there is one reference to a mistress when she tells him that she is pregnant and another mention when she notifies him that the child has died—and that is all. He obliquely tells the story of his future father-in-law’s opposition to his marriage but only hints at his own deep resentment. The painter Franz Marc was a friend to whom he was devoted, yet Marc’s death at Verdun is simply noted. The fullest description of Klee’s life, diary-style, is of his military service (well away from the front lines). There is virtually nothing about the war itself or Germany’s fate. Events decisive for his development as a painter, such as his meeting with the painter Robert Delaunay in Paris, are simply noted without comment, while there are long paragraphs listing works exhibited and the dimensions of frames for etchings.

Diary 1 includes memories of Klee’s childhood and adolescence and his early years as an art student in Munich—the first twenty-two years of his life. Diary 2 covers his trip to Italy in 1901 and 1902. Diary 3 covers his wedding and the couple’s early years in Munich, then the crucial trip to Tunisia. Diary 4 is devoted entirely to the time of his military service.

Klee was a German citizen, but he was born in Switzerland and his mother was Swiss. After the rise of the Nazis, who considered him among the “degenerate artists,” Klee returned to Bern and remained for the rest of his life.

After the death of Lily Klee, his widow, in 1946, there were extensive legal disputes about the disposition of the Klee estate. The settlement favored Klee’s son, Felix, who transferred many objects and documents to the Klee Foundation (Paul Klee-Stiftung) in Bern. Subsequently, Felix Klee consented to the publication of the diaries, which he himself edited.

Klee had always considered himself a writer and had even considered becoming a writer professionally. While the diary entries are deeply personal, they are carefully reticent, as though he expected others to read them. Since Klee is revealing only as much of himself as he wishes and only in the manner that he himself has chosen, the reader has no sense of peeking through keyholes. His painting is entirely unlike any other, and so is his diary; this carefully constructed literary production is uniquely Klee’s, achieving its purpose by the multiplication of carefully selected detail, from the trivial to the sublime, which could be a description of Klee’s painting style.


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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 42

Arts Magazine. September, 1977. Special Klee issue.

Dixon, John W., Jr. “The Optics of the Modern Imagination,” in Art and the Theological Imagination, 1978.

Giedion-Welcker, Carola. Paul Klee, 1952.

Grohmann, Will. Paul Klee, 1954.

Haftmann, W. The Mind and Work of Paul Klee, 1954.

Ponente, Nello. Klee, 1960.


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