Born on 18 December 1879 in Münchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland; † 29 June 1940 in Muralto, Switzerland), Paul Klee was a German artist whose work is classified as Expressionism, Constructivism, Cubism, and Surrealism. His art used elements of many styles, which is why his artistic work is considered so unique.
Paul Klee's career and early work
Paul Klee was born on 18 December 1897, the son of a music teacher and a singer. In 1898 he began studying graphic art at Heinrich Knirr's public school in Munich. In 1900 he transferred to Franz von Stuck's painting class at the Munich Art Academy. After a trip to Italy in 1901-1902, the young artist returned to his parents' house near Bern in 1902. In 1906 Klee married the pianist Lily Stumpf and the couple moved to Munich. Just one year later their son Felix was born. In 1910 the artist takes part in various group exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Bern, the Kunsthalle Basel and the Kunsthaus Zürich. Almost exclusively graphic works by him are exhibited there.
His acquaintance with Wassily Kandinsky and August Macke in 1911 leads Klee to join the editorial group "Der Blaue Reiter". In 1912 the artist is represented in the second exhibition of the Blaue Reiter with 17 graphic works. The exhibition is held at the Goltz Gallery in Munich.
The breakthrough to colour in Paul Klee's work
A study trip to Tunisia in 1914 with August Macke and Louis Moilliet marked a turning point in Klee's artistic work. During this trip to Tunis, the artist conscientiously kept a diary. The Arabian city architecture with its characteristic rectangular colour surfaces left a lasting impression on the artist and he discovered colour for himself, after having worked largely in monochrome before the trip. After the trip, he created further works inspired by his experiences during the trip.
Klee was drafted into the First World War in 1916. Fortunately, he was spared a deployment to the front and could continue to devote himself to art.
Paul Klee at the Bauhaus
In 1920 Paul Klee was appointed by Walter Gropius to the Bauhaus in Weimar. Accepting the invitation, Klee was in charge of the bookbinding workshop from 1921 to 1925 and the metal workshop from 1922.
Klee's first solo exhibition opens in the USA at the beginning of 1924. In the same year Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky found the artists' group "Die Blaue Vier" (The Blue Four) in Weimar, which had already been planned in 1919. Galka Scheyer acts as the group's agent.
When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, Paul Klee and his family also moved there in 1926. From 1927 to 1930 he taught the free painting class there. His theory of "Bildnerische Formlehre" had a lasting influence on the work at the Bauhaus.
Paul Klee's late work
From 1931 Klee took up a professorship at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. However, after the National Socialists came to power in 1933, he was dismissed without notice and his art was declared "degenerate". He then emigrated to Switzerland with his family.
In 1935 the Kunsthalle Bern shows a large retrospective. In the same year the artist fell seriously ill. It was not until 1937 that the artist had a productive creative phase again. In the following three years he produced a considerable body of late work. He dealt with his desolate state of health by depicting suffering figures. Paul Klee died on 29 June 1940 during a stay at a health resort in Muralto.
Throughout his life, Paul Klee's aim was for his pictures to communicate through colour, shapes and lines.
Klee left behind an œuvre of around 9,000 works, 1,000 of which he created in the last five years of his life.