Swiss-born artist Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) created some of the most innovative and best-loved works of the twentieth century, in media including etching, drawing, ink, pastel, oil paint and watercolour. Uniquely among his contemporaries, he combined the machine aesthetic of modernism with lyrical, organic elements, arriving at a visual language entirely his own. Although he moved freely between media and from figuration to abstraction, Klee’s works remain instantly recognisable, often characterised by a playfulness and wit that can sharpen to biting satire on occasion.
The son of a musician, and a violinist of professional standard himself, Klee abandoned music to study art at the Academy in Munich. It was in Munich that he met and befriended the artists Wasily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and August Macke, taking part in the second Expressionist Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1912. In the same year he visited Paris and was exposed to Cubist works for the first time. A trip to Tunisia with Macke awakened him to the sensuous power of colour, causing him to exclaim ” Colour… possesses me forever … I am a painter”.
In 1921 Klee was appointed to teach at the Bauhaus, where he remained for 10 years as an influential and much-loved figure. His writings on art, including his best-known literary work The Pedagogical Sketchbook, have had a continuing influence to this day. In 1933 he returned to Switzerland having been dismissed from his position at the Düsseldorf Academy by the Nazis; his work was included in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937 and Klee spent the rest of his life, which was curtailed by the onset of a wasting disease, unable to return to the country that had fostered his career.
This accessible overview of the artist is the seventh addition to the Tate Introductions series, providing a clear and concise guide to artists through history.
Flavia Frigeri is Assistant Curator at Tate Modern.