A Swiss-born painter and graphic artist whose personal, often gently humorous
works are replete with allusions to dreams, music, and poetry, Paul Klee, b.

Dec. 18, 1879, d. June 29, 1940, is difficult to classify. Primitive art,
surrealism, cubism, and children’s art all seem blended into his small-scale,
delicate paintings, watercolors, and drawings. His family was very interested in
the arts. The jobs that Paul’s parents had were strange for 1879. His mom helped
support the family by giving piano lessons. His father did the housework. He
cooked, cleaned, and painted. Paul’s grandma taught him how to paint. After much
hesitation he chose to study art, not music, and he attended the Munich Academy
in 1900. Klee later toured Italy (1901-02), responding enthusiastically to Early
Christian and Byzantine art. Klee was a watercolorist, and etcher, who was one
of the most original masters of modern art. Belonging to no specific art
movement, he created works known for their fantastic dream images, wit, and
imagination. These combine satirical, grotesque, and surreal elements and reveal
the influence of Francisco de Goya and James Ensor, both of whom Klee admired.

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Two of his best-known etchings, dating from 1903, are Virgin in a Tree and Two
Men Meet, Each Believing the Other to Be of Higher Rank. The paintings of Klee
are difficult to classify. His earliest works were pencil landscape studies that
showed the influence of impressionism. Until 1912 he also produced many
black-and-white etchings; the overtones of fantasy and satire in these works
showed the influence of 20th-century expressionism as well as of such master
printmakers as Francisco Goya and William Blake. Klee often incorporated letters
and numerals into his paintings, but he also produced series of works that
explore mosaic and other effects. “Klee’s career was a search for the
symbols and metaphors that would make this belief visible. More than any other
painter outside the Surrealist movement (with which his work had many affinities
– its interest in dreams, in primitive art, in myth, and cultural incongruity),
he refused to draw hard distinctions between art and writing. Indeed, many of
his paintings are a form of writing: they pullulate with signs, arrows, floating
letters, misplaced directions, commas, and clefs; their code for any object,
from the veins of a leaf to the grid pattern of Tunisian irrigation ditches,
makes no attempt at sensuous description, but instead declares itself to be a
purely mental image, a hieroglyph existing in emblematic space. So most of the
time Klee could get away with a shorthand organization that skimped the spatial
grandeur of high French modernism while retaining its unforced delicacy of mood.

Klee’s work did not offer the intense feelings of Picassos, or the formal
mastery of Matisses. The spidery, exact line, crawling and scratching around
the edges of his fantasy, works in a small compass of post-Cubist overlaps,
transparencies, and figure- field play-offs. In fact, most of Klee’s ideas about
pictorial space came out of Robert Dulaunays work, especially the Windows.

The paper, hospitable to every felicitous accident of blot and puddle in the
watercolor washes, contains the images gently. As the art historian Robert
Rosenblum has said, ‘Klee’s particular genius was to be able to take any
number of the principal Romantic motifs and ambitions that, by the early
twentieth century, had often swollen into grotesquely Wagnerian dimensions, and
translate them into a language appropriate to the diminutive scale of a child’s
enchanted world.’ After his marriage in 1906 to the pianist Lili Stumpf, Klee
settled in Munich, then an important center for avant-garde art. His wife, Lily,
gave music lessons, while Paul babysat their only son, he was a good babysitter.

Klee painted in a unique and personal style; no one else painted like he did. He
used pastels, tempera, watercolor, and a combination of oil and watercolor, as
well as different backgrounds. Besides using the canvas that he usually painted
on he used paper, jute, cotton, and wrapping paper. A turning point in Klee’s
career was his visit to Tunisia with Macke and Louis Molliet in 1914. He was so
overwhelmed by the intense light there that he wrote: “Color has taken
possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold
of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment. Color and I are
one. I am a painter.” He now built up compositions of colored squares that
have the radiance of the mosaics he saw on his Italian sojourn. The watercolor
Red and White Domes (1914; Collection of Clifford Odets, New York City) is
distinctive of this period. His paintings and watercolors for the next 20 years
showed a mastery of delicate, dreamlike color harmonies, which he usually used
to create flat, semiabstract compositions or even effects resembling mosaic, as
in Pastoral. Klee was also a master draftsman, and many of his works are
elaborated line drawings with subject matter that grew out of fantasy or dream
imagery; he described his technique in these drawings as taking a line for a
walk. After 1935, afflicted by a progressive skin and muscular disease, Klee
adopted a broad, flat style characterized by thick, crayon like lines and large
areas of subdued color. His subject matter during this period grew increasingly
brooding and gloomy, as in the nightmarish Death and Fire. Klee died in Muralto,
Switzerland, on June 29, 1940. His work influenced all later 20th-century
surrealist and nonobjective artists and was a prime source for the budding
abstract expressionist movement. “If Klee was not one of the great form
givers, he was still ambitious. Like a miniaturist, he wanted to render nature
permeable, in the most exact way, to the language of style – and this meant not
only close but ecstatic observation of the natural world, embracing the Romantic
extremes of the near and the far, the close-up detail and the “cosmic”
landscape. At one end, the moon and mountains, the stand of jagged dark pines,
the flat mirroring seas laid in a mosaic of washes; at the other, a swarm of
little graphic inventions, crystalline or squirming, that could only have been
made in the age of high-resolution microscopy and the close-up photograph. There
was a clear link between some of Klee’s plant motifs and the images of plankton,
diatoms, seeds, and microorganisms that German scientific photographers were
making at the same time. In such paintings, Klee tried to give back to art a
symbol that must have seemed lost forever in the nightmarish violence of World
War I and the social unrest that followed. This was the Paradise-Garden, one of
the central images of religious romanticism – the metaphor of Creation itself,
with all species growing peaceably together under the eye of natural (or divine)
order.” Pail Klees Dancing Girl is a painting that he did in 1940 that
stood out from all the rest on our visit to the Art Institute. Dancing Girl is a
painting made up of simple short bold line strokes and a couple of circles to
high light her head and hands. Done in 1940 Klee used a far-fetched medium for
this piece. Dancing girl was composed on oil on linen and then glued on to a
panel. As strange as it must seem it still has a strong appeal to it. Dancing
Girl follows the pattern of man of Klees past work. His work at times seems
hard to explain but understanding to the mind. There are certain suttle objects
in the painting that make it obvious that this is a girl dancing. One is the
distinguishing fact that this is a young woman. This is shown by the 3 main
lines that make up her body. Halfway down the middle line there is a curve that
forms the shape of a triangle as well as her other leg. Under the triangle on
the background is a shade of red that gives the triangle and you the visual
effect of her wearing a dress. The painting itself is simple yet dramatic as
most of Paul Klees works were. The Background was a tealish green color with
highlights of yellow around the circles to distinguish her hands and feet. What
makes the main object stand out at the viewer more is the white highlight around
the girl. This effect draws your eye to the center of the piece and then lets
you wonder around the rest of the painting. It appears as if he (Paul Klee) used
watercolors and inks for this and implemented small pictures and childlike
symbols to give it appeal. Klee valued the primitive look especially art of
children. I believe that he envied their freedom and respected their innocence.

. As the art historian Robert Rosenblum has said, ‘Klee’s particular genius
was to be able to take any number of the principal Romantic motifs and
ambitions that, by the early twentieth century, had often swollen into
grotesquely Wagnerian dimensions, and translate them into a language appropriate
to the diminutive scale of a child’s enchanted world.’ . “Formerly we used to
represent things visible on earth,’ he wrote in 1920, ‘things we either liked to
look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind
visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an
isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other,
latent realities”