Paul Klee, “Tale à la Hoffmann”, 1921, Watercolor, Graphite, and Transferred Printing Ink on Paper Bordered with Metallic Foil Mounted on Cardboard, 40.3 x 32.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, on December 18th of 1879. The son of German music teacher Hans Wilhelm Klee and Swiss singer Ida Marie Frick Klee, he was a talented violinist, who at the age of eleven received an invitation to play with the Bern Music Association. Klee’s attention turned from music to the visual arts; and he enrolled in 1898 at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under portrait painter Heinrich Knirr and painter and print maker Franz von Stuck.
By 1905, Klee had developed his signature techniques and had completed a series of eleven zinc-plate etchings entitled “Inventions”, which would be his first exhibited works. He also worked on a series of fifty-seven experimental works, drawings scratched on blackened glass with a needle, which included his 1906 “Portrait of My Father”. Klee’s artwork progress steadily over the nest five years, and led to his first solo exhibitions in 1910 at three Swiss cities.
During the winter of 1911, Paul Klee, through association with art critic Alfred Kubin, met and collaborated with other artists, including expressionist painter Franz Marc and abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky. After returning to Munich in 1914 from a trip to Tunisia, Klee was inspired by Tunisia’s lightly-lit landscapes and painted his first pure abstract, “In the Style of Kairouan”, a composition of colored circles and rectangles.
By 1917, critics began to cite Klee as one of the best young German artists, which led to his representation for several years by German art dealer Hans Goltz, who was a pioneer for the modernist art movement. Klee taught with great effect at the Brauhaus schools from 1921 to 1931, as did his friend Wassily Kandinsky. Along with expressionist artists Lyonel Feininger and Alexej von Jawlensky and with the support of art dealer Galka Scheyer, they formed “Die Blaue Vier (the Blue Four)” in 1923, which exhibited and lectured in the United States from 1924. A extensive collection of their work is housed in the Städtische Galerie in Munich’s museum Lenbachhaus.
Paul Klee began teaching at the Dusseldorf Academy in 1931, After the emergence of the Nazi Party to power, he was denounced as a cultural Bolshevist by the emerging Nazi Party; his home was searched by the Gestapo; and he was relieved of his professorship at the Düsseldorf Academy. Klee and his family emigrated to Switzerland in late 1933, where he continued his most prolific year of work, producing nearly five hundred works in 1933. Back in Germany in 1937, seventeen of Klee’s work were included in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in July at the Institute of Archaeology in the Hofgarten; over one hundred of Klee’s works in public collections were seized by the Nazi Party.
Beginning in late 1933, Klee began developing symptoms of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease which results in the hardening of connective tissue. Enduring the pain, he was able to continue his work; his simpler and larger designs, with heavier lines and geometric forms, enabled him to keep up his large output over his final years. Paul Klee died in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on the 29th of june 1940. He is buried at Schosshalden Cemetery, Bern, Switzerland. His legacy composes approximately nine thousand works of art.
Note: Paul Klee loved the tales of the German poet, writer and painter Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, who was nicknamed “Ghost Hoffmann” in his own country. Klee’s mixed-media “Tale à la Hoffmann” appears to be loosely based on the poet’s best-known 1814 lyrical tale, “The Golden Pot”, a magical story that switches back and forth between high fantasy and everyday life in Dresden.
“The Golden Pot” recounts the trials of the pure and foolish young Anselmus and his efforts to gain entry to Atlantis, the heaven of poetry. The tree from which he first heard fateful voices speaking to him might thus be on the left; the odd, tubelike construction on the right possibly represents the glass bottle in which Anselmus found himself briefly imprisoned. The tale’s repeated references to time are reflected in the two clocks, and the vessel in the center may stand for the golden pot with the fantastic lily that gives the story its name.
Bottom Insert Image: Paul Klee, “Self-Portrait Full Face, Resting Head in Hand”, 1909, Watercolor on Paper on Cardboard, 16.7 x 13.7 cm, Private Collection