Primarily a graphic artist and painter known for his abstract, whimsical work, Paul Klee (klay) was a major figure in the Dada, Surrealist, nonobjectivist, and abstract expressionist movements and therefore of prime importance in twentieth century art and aesthetic philosophy. Klee also wrote poetry, essays on modern art, and opera and theater reviews. His published diaries and lectures are significant manifestos of the theories of an unconventional and influential thinker.
Klee was the son of two musicians, Hans and Ida Marie (née Frick) Klee. Klee showed signs of artistic genius and an active imagination at an early age. At the age of four he claims to have run to his mother for protection, crying that the devils he was drawing had come to life. At the restaurant of his Uncle Ernst, whom in his diary he calls “the fattest man in Switzerland,” Klee saw human grotesques in the designs on the marble tabletops and was able to “capture them with a pencil.” At the age of seven he began violin lessons, and as a young man he served as a substitute violinist in the Bern Symphony Orchestra. Later Klee chose art over music as a career, but music continued to be an important part of his life and traces of its influence have been observed in his artwork and his theories.
As a student Klee resisted conventional ideas and disliked most of his studies, but he did enjoy Greek and drawing, and he wrote poetry and short stories. When he graduated from secondary school in 1898, he chose to study art in Munich. There he soon became disgruntled with the strict and conventional methods of his teacher, Franz von Stuck. In 1899 Klee met the pianist Lily Stumpf, and they married in 1906. For a time Lily Stumpf supported Klee and their son, Felix, by teaching music lessons.
For several months in 1901 and 1902 Klee lived in Italy, where he was greatly impressed as well as intimidated by the painters of the Renaissance. About this time he began to question the possibilities for artists of his age, and he turned increasingly to caricature. Back in Switzerland, Klee read and studied diligently and independently for the next four years, making occasional trips to...
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