( 1879-1940) Swiss painter, born at Müchenbuchsee, near Bern; died at Muralto-Locarno, in the Canton of Tessin. Klee was one of the most inventive and prolific of modern masters, his complete output being estimated at some 9,000 works. No other painter of the last half-century, formed far from the Nabis, Fauves and Cubists, and owing nothing at all to the École do Paris, has exercised such a widespread influence. Even more than the variations of Picasso, whose genius recapitulates the history of forms, Klee's art opens on the future. His work is not easy to understand. There are no clichés to be found there nor anything that has been seen already -- nothing, at least, that has already been fully expressed. At first glance his compositions seem hermetic and the drawing childish. But when they are looked at more closely, a hidden world reveals itself by stages. From the hidden mysteries of this an there suddenly appears a dream world, peopled by apparitions which seem to light up, one after the other.
Although he was born in Switzerland, the son of a music teacher of Bavarian origin and a Bernese mother, it was in Germany that he made his career. After briefly hesitating between music and painting, he decided for the latter. He studied at Munich at the Academy of Fine Arts under Franz von Stuck. After visits to Italy and Paris, Klee settled in Munich, where he married a pianist. Between 1908 and 1910 he discovered Cézanne, Van Gogh and Matisse. He was a friend of Kandinsky and Franz Marc, the founders of the Blaue Reiter, and he exhibited with them. In 1913 Klee spent almost a year in Paris before going to Kairouan in Tunisia. This journey was decisive in his evolution. Up to the age of thirtyfive Klee was essentially a draughtsman and had painted only water-colours. In his Journal he wrote these particularly significant words, which testify to the new era opening in his life as well as in his art: 'Colour and I are one; I am a painter'. From 1920 on he taught at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau. After a visit to Egypt in 1928, Klee was appointed Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. Resolutely hostile to Hitlerism, he left Germany in 1933, settling in Switzerland, where he worked till his death.
Klee drew a great deal. That is one of the secrets of the profoundness of his art. The notes he took from Nature, before his subject, are full of shrewd insights. Their suggestive filigree is as personal as his non-figurative drawings, in which he creates his own world by twisting lines that sometimes recall honeycombs. Here and there he can be seen attempting a hieroglyphic, an indication of synthesized power, signs which are never static -- hence this writing, which is so strange at first, labyrinthine, but in which new meanings keep appearing. These drawings have a rhythm based on associations, contrasts, balancings and interruptions. In them are found what might be called directional arrows (arrows frequently appear in Klee's work, in which every line points to the inner life of man and the elements). Houses huddled together in a village, vegetation springing upwards, the wake of fish in the water, flames dancing, the rise and fall of waves, the formation of crystals, roads and encounters, comings and goings -- Klee gives form to everything which perpetually puzzles mankind, and he succeeds in suggesting its perpetual activity. By his blue foregrounds and grey backgrounds he gives space and vibrancy to his coloured planes. Klee owes to Cézanne his conviction that Nature does not lie in its superficial appearance but in its depth, so that, on the surface, colours are the expression of this internal force. Colour is not just incidental for him; it is an integral part of the organization of the picture. Who can resist those shades of blue contrasted with vermilions verging on orange and mauve, those golden browns, yellows, the pale violet punctuated with bistre? Sometimes Klee used a Fauve palette, but not stridently. With his quiet reds and greens he evokes the tender radiance of the moon which, 'itself like a dream of the sun, reigns over the world of dreams'. His colour has the extraordinary gift of associating planes and giving rise to rhythms in the drawing. By modulating the extreme values of chessboard white and black and superimposing his shining spectrum on them, he creates the effect of distance and evokes the sense of movement.
Klee was in everything he did, not just superficially but by a projection of his physical being in a profound way. He actually becomes the imba trembling in the depths of the water, the crumbling mountain peak, the plant growing towards its fulfilment. He was completely at one with Nature. He had the power of giving substance to shadow and of giving form to everything that was fleeting or evanescent, be it a flower, foam or smoke. He was perhaps the only artist of our time who, without resorting to Impressionism, could paint the ceaseless movement of the heavens as seen by a child lying in the grass and dazzled by the beauty of a Free summer's day.
Towards 1914 Klee set down his reflections on art in the form of notes, which were published in the following year by the Bauhaus under the title Pedagogical Sketchbook. His aesthetic system was only fragmentarily expounded there. His theories, which he employed in his lectures, were far from being the codification of a method; on the contrary, they forbade his having a pre-established vision and led him to seek new means of expression. When he set to work, Klee gained power from them to throw himself freely into the improvisation of his fantasies. Far from becoming a manufactured product, work was a process of rebirth for him. He knew well enough that the creation of a painting was not a logical matter. 'One comes to know a thing', he said, 'by its root. Thus one learns the prehistory of the visible. But that is not yet art at the highest level. On the highest level, mystery begins.' Klee arrived at this conclusion: 'Nothing can replace intuition'. Even though his draughtsmanship was extremely deliberate, Klee was fortunately able to forget all about method while he was creating. No doubt certain paintings do point to the pedagogue -- he taught for over twenty years -- but his poetic inspiration spreads everywhere. 'To make memories abstract', was his purpose. No other painter in the last thirty years has so subtly touched the emotions or diffused such bewitching and rare poetic feeling. Werner Haftmann, his biographer, has said: 'He was the primitive of a new sensibility'.
Why does his work give such a sensation of music and poetry? Klee did not deliberately strive to transpose these feelings from one medium into another. That would have been a sign of weakness, an underestimation of the resources of drawing and colour. It is simply that, with in artist of Klee's importance, everything flows from visual expression and everything is suggested by it. Every impression takes form, instinctively, in lines, planes and colours which, in turn, give rise to a new range of perceptions. This was the secret of Klee's art. Nobody was quicker to perceive, more competent to suggest the primal movement of life. In the very act of creation Klee seized upon this life-force. He wrote: 'As a child plays at being a grown-up, so the painter imitates the play of those forces which created and still are creating the world'. Klee's ideas on the origin of these forces were somewhat tinged with Eastern mysticism. He delighted in the idea of metamorphosis. Almost all of his work was done on very small canvases and papers. What they lack in show, they gain in depth.
His work is strictly individual, but never set apart by egocentricity nor arrogantly superhuman. Klee's painting plumbs the most secret depths of the human soul and opens on mysterious paths. And yet it never loses its purpose, and its language always remains that of visual possibilities.