A painter and graphic artist of genius, Paul Klee was also highly accomplished in other matters. He played the violin in the Bern orchestra. He was a writer who has left us Pedagogical Sketchbook (1953) and The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 (1964). He was an important art theorist.
Klee was born in 1879 at Müchenbuchsee, near Bern, Switzerland. His father was German, his mother Swiss. Both parents were musical, his father teaching music to support his family. As a child Klee was precocious, exhibiting a talent for drawing, writing, and music; as a teenager he evidenced a dislike of conformity to tradition. Upon graduation from secondary school, he announced his intention of becoming a painter and chose Munich over Paris as the best place to study. After some preparation at a school in Bavaria, he became a pupil at the Munich Academy in 1900. He began his study under the noted Symbolist painter and sculptor, Franz von Stuck; among his fellow students was the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, held by some to be the originator of abstract art. Von Stuck was a traditionalist who demanded that all of his beginning students first acquire a thorough knowledge of anatomy and master drawing before taking up painting. Klee revolted against such standards and withdrew from the academy in 1901, resolved to pursue his own course of self-instruction.
A devoted concertgoer—his favorite composers were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner, and Richard Strauss—Klee met his future wife, Lily Stumpf, at a concert. Having left the academy, he paid a visit to Bern, but he soon left for a tour of Italy with his sculptor friend, Herman Heller. In Italy he was particularly impressed by the work of the Renaissance masters Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pinturicchio, and Jacopo Tintoretto.
Klee returned from Italy in 1902 to live in Bern. In 1905, he visited Paris where he viewed with favor the work of the American painter James McNeill Whistler and that of the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Returned home, he married Lily Stumpf in 1906. The newlyweds set up housekeeping in Munich. Lily taught music while Klee continued his self-instruction in art, going to school, as it were, first to the Impressionists Claude Monet, Renoir, and Alfred Sisley, then to the Postimpressionists Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Matisse. By the spring of 1911, he believed that he had discovered his own independent style.
As a result Klee allied himself with the artists of Der Blaue Reiter, a loose circle of German expressionists which had been formed by Kandinsky and Franz Marc aided by August Macke. Klee’s joining with the Blaue Reiter circle was his way of announcing to the world that he was now ready to take his place among the European avant-garde. In 1912, in the Blaue Reiter Almanac, a catalog prepared for the first Blaue Reiter exhibition, the group set forth its aims: “to show, in the variety of forms represented, how the inner desire of artists realizes itself in multiple fashion.” The book contained a varied collection of images: children’s drawings, Bavarian folk paintings on glass, old German woodcuts, theater masks, shadow puppets. The idea was to show how freely creative an artist could be when unfettered by the formal naturalist tradition of Western art. The first exhibition opened in Munich in December, 1911, and ran through January, 1912. In 1913, it was moved to Berlin, and then to several other cities. Klee took part in this second exhibition in Berlin.
It is at this point that Carolyn Lanchner’s huge book begins, with Ann Temkin’s essay , “Klee and the Avant-Garde 1912-1940.” Temkin, a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, examines Klee’s development from the time that he joined the Blaue Reiter group in 1912 to his death at Muralto-Locarno in 1940. Klee’s exposure in the 1913 exhibition not only brought him a measure of recognition but also enabled him to sell some of his work. In April of 1914,...
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