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Paul Klee - Important Art

Swiss Painter

Paul Klee Photo
Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Bauhaus

Born: December 18, 1879 - Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland

Died: June 29, 1940 - Locarno, Switzerland

Important Art by Paul Klee

The below artworks are the most important by Paul Klee - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Winged Hero (Der Held mit dem Flugel) (1905)

Winged Hero (Der Held mit dem Flugel) (1905)

Klee was first a draughtsman before becoming a painter. The etchings in his early series, Inventions, demonstrate Klee's ability to manipulate line and tonal value to create a figure with strange and grotesque limbs. An artist's inscription in the bottom right corner of the picture explains the underlying concept: "Because this man was born with one wing, he believed he could fly. His attempts, of course, have only resulted in crashes and a broken left arm and leg." The strange creature could very well represent a kind of self-portrait of the typical progressive artist at the turn of the 20th century, perpetually pursuing his full potential while repeatedly struggling against public incomprehension or apathy.

Hammamet with Its Mosque (1914)

Hammamet with Its Mosque (1914)

The bright light of Tunisia inspired Klee to create pictures of colorful watercolor washes. The upper half of the painting is representational, while the composition of the lower half follows Robert Delaunay's proposal to use color and its contrasts to expressive purposes- here a juxtaposition of red and green patches in the manner of a folk textile, or other such popular craft tradition. Klee suggests that color, shape, and the faintest suggestion of a subject are enough to powerfully re-create in the eye of the viewer the actual feeling of repose that the artist experienced in the original landscape.

Affected Place [<i>Betroffener Ort</i>] (1922)

Affected Place [Betroffener Ort] (1922)

Created in Klee's early Bauhaus years, this piece shows a scene of ambiguous signs and symbols over a background of modulated purples and oranges. The various strips of color hint at a horizon, their horizontal emphasis counteracted only by the boldly painted arrow, which abruptly suggests something as ordinary as a road sign. Like the many gradations of color, the arrow generates movement, compelling the viewer's eye to the center of the picture. The influence on Klee of Cubist still lifes, such as those of Picasso and Braque, is clearly apparent: Klee suggests a motif painted from nature while also cancelling it, as though to remind us that this is no window but a kind of abstract sign system.

The Twittering Machine [<i>Die Zwitschermaschine</i>] (1922)

The Twittering Machine [Die Zwitschermaschine] (1922)

The title alludes to a kind of child's toy or domestic ornament, four mechanical birds resting on a hand crank, ready to sing when the crank is turned. In their still state, they give an intimidating impression, their gaping, menacing beaks the only sign that these are birds in the first place. Dadaist and proto-Surrealist fantasy and a sense of alarm in the face of the most ordinary item of every life is underlying this little, otherwise playful inscription. Klee used an innovative technique to create this mixed-media piece: he drew on top of a sheet of paper that had been first covered in black oil pigment, which resulted in the blurred lines and black marks of the background.

Highway and Byways [<i>Hauptweg und Nebenwege</i>] (1928)

Highway and Byways [Hauptweg und Nebenwege] (1928)

Klee visited Egypt in 1928, inspired by the North African country to create brightly colored abstract works. Yet, like many of his others, this painting is not quite fully divorced from its real world subject. Narrow blue rectangles at the top of the canvas suggest the sky, while uneven rectangles and trapezoids create paths leading one's eye from the bottom of the page to the elevated horizon. Broad trapezoids painted pale hues are arranged down the center of the canvas to suggest a main road. Thus Klee manipulates color, shape, and line to create a sense of real-world depth and movement.

Death and Fire (1940)

Death and Fire (1940)

The German word for death, Tod, makes up the features of the white face in the center of the picture, so powerfully, yet simply reminiscent of a human or an animal skull. "Tod" may be found again in the "T" shape of the figure's raised arm, the golden orb in its hand, and the D shape of its face. Perhaps a minimally described man walks toward Death, or perhaps towards the glowing sun held in Death's hand. The image juxtaposes the cold white with the warm reds and yellows, perhaps symbolic, like a kind of cave painting, of the creation of man and the image of his sad mortality. Inspired by Klee's interest in hieroglyphics, Death and Fire suggests that abstraction and representation have been mutually accommodating, or otherwise complementary means of expression, since time immemorial.

Related Artists and Major Works

Soft Spoken (1969)

By: Josef Albers

This work in the Homage to the Square series was executed almost 20 years into what may be the most sustained exploration of the relational character of color in 20th-century art. An application of a quasi-scientific method to art-making, the Homage works demonstrate the capacity of a strictly limited formal strategy to produce inexhaustible permutations and continually generate new visual and aesthetic experiences. In Soft Spoken, Albers has added a fourth square, and narrowed the range of color, while retaining the calculated asymmetry of the other works in the series. This late work continues and extends Albers's lifelong, and remarkably consistent, pedagogical focus on "opening eyes" through the repetition of forms and subtle color juxtapositions that generate internal friction, movement, and instability. Regarding them more as experiments than expressive statements, Albers continued adding to the series until the end of his life, "not because of the squares, but because there is no end with color." He donated this painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972, a year after they honored Albers with the museum's first ever solo exhibition of a living artist.

Composition IV (1911)

Composition IV (1911)

By: Wassily Kandinsky

Hidden within the bright swaths of color and the clear black lines of Composition IV, Kandinsky portrayed several Cossacks with lances, as well as boats, reclining figures, and a castle on a hilltop. As with many paintings from this period, he represented the apocalyptic battle that would lead to eternal peace. The notion of battle is conveyed by the Cossacks, while the calm of the flowing forms and reclining figures on the right alludes to the peace and redemption to follow. In order to facilitate his development of a non-objective style of painting, as described in his text Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), Kandinsky reduced objects to pictographic symbols. Through his elimination of most references to the outside world, Kandinsky expressed his vision in a more universal manner, distilling the spiritual essence of the subject through these forms into a visual vocabulary. Many of these symbolic figures were repeated and refined in later works, becoming further and further abstracted as Kandinsky developed his mature, purely abstract style.

Celebes (1921)

Celebes (1921)

By: Max Ernst

At center, a large round shape dominates the composition that Ernst based upon a photograph of a Sudanese bin for storing corn which the artist has refigured as an elephant-like mechanical being from the subconscious. The painting's title (sometimes known as The Elephant Celebes) comes from a childish and naughty German rhyme that starts off, "The elephant from Celebes has sticky, yellow bottom grease," a bawdy reference to those that know the original rhyme.

Ernst's painting demonstrates his indebtedness to Freudian dream theory with its odd juxtapositions of disparate objects. Despite this disparity - a headless/nude woman, the bits of machinery - the painting holds together as a finished composition. Ernst's work elicits discomfort in the not knowing of his intentions and also, in early-20th century audiences, disgust because of its irrelevant depiction of the human form (the headless nude) which is revered within art making (since people are made in God's image). Through this work, Ernst questions which is the "real" world - that of night-time and dreams - or that of the waking state.


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