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A Swiss-born painter and graphic artist whose personal, often gently humorous works are replete with allusions to dreams, music, and poetry, Paul Klee, b. Dec. 18, 1879, d. June 29, 1940, is difficult to classify. Primitive art, surrealism, cubism, and children's art all seem blended into his small-scale, delicate paintings, watercolors, and drawings. His family was very interested in the arts. The jobs that Paul's parents had were strange for 1879. His mom helped support the family by giving piano lessons. His father did the housework. He cooked, cleaned, and painted. Paul's grandma taught him how to paint. After much hesitation he chose to study art, not music, and he attended the Munich
Academy in 1900. Klee later toured Italy (1901-02), responding enthusiastically to Early Christian and Byzantine art.
Klee was a watercolorist, and etcher, who was one of the most original masters of modern art. Belonging to no specific art movement, he created works known for their fantastic dream images, wit, and imagination. These combine satirical, grotesque, and surreal elements and reveal the influence of Francisco de Goya and James Ensor, both of whom Klee admired. Two of his best-known etchings, dating from 1903, are Virgin in a Tree and Two Men Meet, Each Believing the Other to Be of Higher Rank.
The paintings of Klee are difficult to classify. His earliest works were pencil landscape studies that showed the influence of impressionism. Until 1912 he also produced many black-and-white etchings; the overtones of fantasy and satire in these works showed the influence of 20th-century expressionism as well as of such master printmakers as Francisco Goya and William Blake. Klee often incorporated letters and numerals into his paintings, but he also produced series of works that explore mosaic and other effects. "Klee's career was a search for the symbols and metaphors that would make this belief visible. More than any other painter outside the Surrealist movement (with which his work had many affinities - its interest in dreams, in primitive art, in myth, and cultural incongruity), he refused to draw hard distinctions between art and writing. Indeed, many of his paintings are a form of writing: they pullulate with signs, arrows, floating letters, misplaced directions, commas, and clefs; their code for any object, from the veins of a leaf to the grid pattern of Tunisian irrigation ditches, makes no attempt at sensuous description, but instead declares itself to be a purely mental image, a hieroglyph existing in emblematic space. So most of the time Klee could get away with a shorthand organization that skimped the spatial grandeur of high French modernism while retaining its unforced delicacy of mood. Klee's work did not offer the intense feelings of Picasso’s, or the formal mastery of Matisse’s. The spidery, exact line, crawling and scratching around the edges of his fantasy, works in a small compass of post-Cubist overlaps, transparencies, and figure- field play-offs. In fact, most of Klee's ideas about pictorial space came out of Robert Dulaunay’s work, especially the Windows. The paper, hospitable to every felicitous accident of blot and puddle in the watercolor washes, contains the images gently. As the art historian Robert Rosenblum has said, 'Klee's particular genius [was] to be able to take any number of the principal Romantic motifs and ambitions that, by the early twentieth century, had often swollen into grotesquely Wagnerian dimensions, and translate them into a language appropriate to the diminutive scale of a child's enchanted world.'
After his marriage in 1906 to the pianist Lili Stumpf, Klee settled in Munich, then an important center for avant-garde art. His wife, Lily, gave music lessons, while Paul babysat their only son, he was a good babysitter. Klee painted in a unique and personal style; no one else painted like he did. He used pastels, tempera, watercolor, and a combination of oil and watercolor, as well as different backgrounds. Besides using the canvas that he usually painted on he used paper, jute, cotton, and wrapping paper. A turning point in Klee's career was his visit to Tunisia with Macke and Louis Molliet in 1914.
He was so overwhelmed by the intense light there that he wrote:
"Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment. Color and I are one. I am a painter."
He now built up compositions of colored squares that have the radiance of the mosaics he saw on his Italian sojourn. The watercolor Red and White Domes (1914; Collection of Cliffor
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