Paul Klee

Paul Klee

A draughtsman, painter, and printmaker, Paul Klee of German descent yet was born in Switzerland in 1879. He was famous for his stick figures but executed in a very unique style derived from the influences of Surrealism, Expressionism, and Cubism. Other themes he often portrayed include arrows, phases of the moon, splashes of color, and fishes. In some cases his paintings would like a doodle made by a child for its playfulness yet one can see that the images and the quality of the work are of a master’s level.

Like van Gogh and Kandinsky, Klee also explored the power of color, encouraging him to write a number of essays and lectures on it which are all published in the Paul Klee Notebooks. These writings served as a critique on the modern art. Often times, Klee’s manual for painting and design is compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting, only that the latter wrote it for the High Renaissance.

Klee recognize the influence of Der Blaue Reiter on him, a well-known German Expressionist group, as a contributing factor to his overall artistic development. He was also trained by the Bauhaus, so his school transfers made him quite difficult to categorize as to which school of thought he might belong to. Overall, his art is an inspiration to the foundation of the premier New York School of Arts. His contemporaries looked up to him as the next big thing in the industry as he tend to surprise his audience with his fantastic, surreal and dream-like paintings.

Having been born during the late 19th century, it is safe to assume that Klee may have absorbed the transcendalist nature of many art works and literary pieces at the time. If so, he believed that there is more to the material world that meets the eye. Once a person becomes aware of this, he or she might be given with a new perspective, a new perception of reality. In painting, this can be achieved through color schemes, structural composition, design and other techniques that would help the artist get his point across.

Some examples of Paul Klee’s renowned works are stated below:

  • My Room (1896)
  • Flower Myth (1918)
  • Black Columns in a Landscape (1919)
  • Red Balloon (1922)
  • Nocturnal Fertility (1921)
  • Tale a la Hoffmann (1921)
  • Abstract Trio (1923)
  • May Picture (1925)
  • Comedians’ Handbill (1938)
  • Death and Fire (1940)

Early Life

Paul Klee was born in the 18th of December 1879 in Munchenbuschsee in Bern, Switzerland. He was raised by a family of artists. His father, Hans, was of German descent and worked as a music teacher while his mother, Ida Frick, was Swiss-born. Hans received his music education from the Stuttgart Conservatory and taught music at the Bern State Seminary until 1931. Apparently, Paul’s musical inclinations came from his father who had helped him develop his musical skill at a young age.
In 1880 Klee family settled in Bern town proper, where Paul was to receive his primary education from 1886 to 1890. He also took up violin lessons at the local music school. His teachers thought that the young artist was an excellent violinist that he became a member of the Bern Music Association at the age of 11. With this, his parents grew liking the idea of him becoming a full-time musician. However, the young Klee found deeper love and passion for the visual arts that he said no to his parents’ wishes.

At 16, Paul Klee began drawing landscapes and views of the interior. He showed potential in the field which was enough for him to enter an art school. His earliest works consisted of caricatures and rough sketches which used to be his way to make something good out of his tedious school classes. However, reading literature, aesthetics and art history and theory excited him, which would later prove to be a premonition for his success in writing critical papers on art form and design.

Early Training

Paul Klee attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1898 despite the opposition of his family. There he befriended Franz von Stuck and Heinrich Knirr, with whom he’d share some drawing lessons and theories. During this period, his drawing skill had improved significantly as he began putting a lot more emphasis on natural color.

However, being Swiss born did not hide Klee away from the debauchery and Bohemian behavior that dominated the German lifestyle and culture during the early 20th century. While attending school he had also engaged in unsettling affairs with different women, binge drinking, and forged relationships with the models of artists acquainted to him. In 1900, he got one of those women pregnant but the newborn died a few weeks after its birth.

In 1901, after graduating, Paul Klee and Hermann Haller settled in Italy until 1902. They have travelled to several cities such as Naples, Rome and Florence so they could study the works of the Old Masters. He closely observed the way those Masters treated and depicted color against the natural light, but sadly, he found it too pessimistic for his taste. He wanted color to be optimistic, lighthearted and bright, something new to replace the grotesque and dark satires.

After his tour around Italy, he stayed at his parents’ home and began working while attending some art lessons occasionally. 1905 was a significant year for the artist for it was when he started developing his own techniques, one of which was using a needle and a blackened panel of glass to draw images. This was followed by a series of zinc plate etchings which he collectively titled Inventions. The work made a debut in an exhibition in his town.

During this period though, Paul Klee was not fully committed to painting nor printmaking yet. He would still have been playing violin for the municipal orchestra and writing reviews on musical shows. Nevertheless, working for the orchestra allowed him to meet and share a romantic relationship with Lily Stumpf, a pianist. The two married each other in 1906 and bore a child named Felix Paul in 1907.

Early Career

The beginning of Paul Klee’s success in visual arts happened when he met Alfred Kubin in 1911. He asked the artist to produce illustrations for Voltaire’s Candide. The project ended successfully, which led Kubin feeling more than happy to recommend Klee to Wilhelm Hausenstein, an art critic. His associations with these notable figures opened up a door of opportunity for him to meet Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Auguste Macke.

Through Kandinsky, Klee was able to join the leading Expressionist group in Germany at the time, Der Blaue Reiter. There he became friends with Marianne von Werefkin and Gabriele Munter. Subsequently, Klee was to take part in the first and second exhibition of the group in 1911 in Munich’s Moderne Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser. It was where his Steinhauer was displayed for the first time, and it was such a significant piece of art for it was created by using the techniques of ink drawing.

The War Times

From 1912 to 1914, Paul Klee had been in and out of the city attending different art exhibitions. In 1912 he went to Paris to see the works of Cubist artists there such as those of Maurice de Vlaminck and Robert Delaunay, both of whom were known for their application of bold color. Klee felt inspired by their works but never did he thought of copying those as they were but instead developed his own color scheme to produce Houses near the Grave Pit and In the Quarry.

In 1914 he fled to Tunisia together with Louis Moilliet and August Macke to observe how artists depict light there. The trip made him realize the potential of abstraction in a painting in order to attain a unique way of treating color, which he called “operatic paintings”. A fine example that represented this style is The Bavarian Don Giovanni of 1919.

Mature Years

Paul Klee did serve in the military for quite a while and then came back to Switzerland after the war. By 1919 he was employed by the Academy of Art in Stuttgart as an art teacher. The stint did not last long so he sorted things out by accepting a three-year deal with Hans Goltz. Under the patronage of Goltz, Paul Klee was able to achieve international recognition and huge commercial success. He was able to sell more than 300 art works in just a year.

In 1921 he accepted a professorship position at the Bauhaus. He stayed there until 1931, specializing in the rudiments of form (i.e. stained glass, printmaking and mural painting). He was allowed to use at least two studios for the job where most of the art works displayed during the first Bauhaus exhibition were made. Klee drew a plenty of ad prints while keeping an active intellectual discussion about color theory with his colleagues.

After his career stint in the Bauhaus, Klee transferred to the Dusseldorf Academy from 1931 to 1933. However, when the Nazi regime took over Germany, he was accused of being a Jew and thus rendered him termination from his job. This event had inspired him to paint Struck from the List in 1933. Fortunately, he was able to move forward with his career and started arranging shows in Paris and London throughout 1933 and 1934, and then went back to Switzerland.

Ad Parnassum of 1932 is representative of Klee’s peak. It is considered as a masterpiece by many for it was one of the first Pointilist art. The 1930’s had been a very productive decade for him as he was able to make as many as 500 works in 1933 alone. However, people are not lucky all the time, Klee contracted scleroderma albeit he felt the mild symptoms at first. The disease somehow paralyzed him because it affects all internal organs as it progresses to a chronic state.

In 1936, Klee produced 25 works only but this somehow improved toward the latter part of the decade as his health gradually went back to normal. His friends, especially Kandinsky and Picasso, would often visit him to send their words of encouragement. This inspired the artist to continue painting like he has never done it before. In 1939, he was able to produce 1,200 pictures.


As scleroderma is a progressive, fatal disease, it ended Paul Klee’s life on June 29, 1940 at the age of 60. He died in his house in Muralto, Switzerland and was interred at Schosshaldenfriedhof in Bern.