Swiss-born artist Paul Klee
(German/Swiss, 1879–1940) is renowned for his unique absorption of European Modernist movements, incorporating techniques from Cubism, Surrealism, and German Expressionism into his paintings and works on paper. Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee and grew up in a family of musicians, excelling in both music and the visual arts in his youth. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich under the artist Franz von Stuck
(German, 1863–1928). In 1911, Klee met Wassily Kandinsky
(Russian, 1866-1944), Franz Marc
(German, 1880–1916), and other Expressionist artists, and exhibited his work alongside the group Der Blaue Reiter
(The Blue Rider) in 1913. During the same period, he was exposed to French Cubism and, during a significant trip to Tunisia in 1914, was enthralled by the light and color of the landscape, inspiring a lifelong passion for exploring color theory in his work.
Klee began painting lively Abstract pieces following this trip, using blocks of color as the foundation for his landscapes, urban streets, and figurative scenes. He also experimented with texture and alternative materials, frequently painting on burlap
and other rough surfaces. Klee’s subject matter ranges from satirical, whimsical, and childlike imagery, to the surreal and fantastic, to somber meditations on death and war. In 1919, he began teaching at the Bauhaus, the groundbreaking German school uniting fine arts, craft, and design, and exhibited at the Bauhaus and in Paris throughout the 1920s.
In 1923, Klee and Kandinsky joined artists Lyonel Feininger
(American/German, 1871–1956) and Alexej Jawlensky
(Russian, 1864–1941) to create Die Blaue Vier
(The Blue Four), which traveled to the United Stated in 1925. Klee continued to teach until the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazi regime in 1933, and he was forced to emigrate from Germany to Switzerland with his family. The same year he fell ill with the muscular disease scleroderma, and he spent the last several years of his life painting works with sobering themes, reflecting the increased presence of violent, totalitarian regimes in Germany and Klee’s own declining health. He continued to paint, using broad, thick brushstrokes because of his physical condition, and died in 1940. Klee produced more than 9,000 works during his lifetime, and is celebrated as one of the most unique and innovative of the early 20th century Modernists.