Klee, Paul

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Paul Klee was one of the most original artists of the 20th century. He followed no movement, and there is no single term that describes his style. In his paintings Klee created a world of his own--a dreamy world that suggests poetry and the rhythms of music.

Klee was born on December 18, 1879, in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland. He learned to love music from his father, a German music teacher. Paul chose painting as a career, but music had a great influence on his work.

In 1898, Klee went to Munich to study art. Four years later, he moved to Bern and produced a series of etchings. In 1906, he settled in Munich and married Lily Stumpf, a piano teacher. The couple had a son, Felix.

In 1912, Klee exhibited his paintings with German artists known as the Blue Rider group. A short trip to Tunisia in 1914 proved to be a turning point in Klee's art. Up to this time, he had worked mostly in black and white. In Tunisia, Klee "discovered" color. The brilliant red sun there seemed to make all colors brighter and deeper. Color then became the basis of his art. "Color and I are one," he wrote in his diary.

Klee was a quiet, thoughtful man. He took long walks alone and loved to watch the flowers and leaves moving in the breeze. He painted with great precision on small canvases. His subjects included yellow birds resting on purple branches, floating cities of squares and rectangles, and mazes of lines.

After 1921, Klee taught at the Bauhaus, an art school in Germany. In 1930, he left to become a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. Disagreeing with Nazi policies, Klee left Germany in 1933. He returned to Switzerland, where he lived until his death on June 29, 1940.

Reviewed by Harold Spencer
University of Connecticut

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