Swiss painter, 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.|
A German citizen, Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, near Bern, Switzerland, on December 18, 1879, and in 1898 moved to Munich, where he studied art at a private school and at the Munich Academy. He grew up in a musical family and was himself a violinist. After much hesitation he chose to study art, not music, and he attended the Munich Academy in 1900. In 1906 he married the pianist Lili Stumpf and settled in Munich, then an important center for avant-garde art. He join Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an expressionist group that contributed much to the development of abstract art. After World War I he taught at the Bauhaus school . In 1931 he began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy, but he was dismissed by the Nazis, who termed his work "degenerate." In 1933, Klee went to Switzerland. There he came down with the crippling collagen disease scleroderma, which forced him to develop a simpler style and eventually killed him.
The paintings of Klee is 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. His late works, characterized by heavy black lines, are often reflections on death and war, but his last painting, Still Life is a serene summation of his life's concerns as a creator. Klee was a teacher at the Bauhaus, Germany's most advanced art school, from 1920 to 1931.
A trip to North Africa in 1914 stimulated Klee strongly toward using color and marked the beginning of his fully mature style, in which he declared himself possessed by color. His paintings and watercolors for the next 20 years showed a mastery of delicate, dreamlike color harmonies, which he usually used to create flat, semiabstract compositions or even effects resembling mosaic, as in Pastoral. Klee was also a master draftsman, and many of his works are elaborated line drawings with subject matter that grew out of fantasy or dream imagery; he described his technique in these drawings as taking a line for a walk. Twittering Machine, for instance, with its fluid, wiry, birdlike motifs, is a composition of interconnected lines and circular shapes, with an evocative effect that is much greater than its spare means.
After 1935, afflicted by a progressive skin and muscular disease, Klee adopted a broad, flat style characterized by thick, crayonlike lines and large areas of subdued color. His subject matter during this period grew increasingly brooding and gloomy, as in the nightmarish Death and Fire.
Klee died in Muralto, Switzerland, on June 29, 1940. His work influenced all later 20th-century surrealist and nonobjective artists and was a prime source for the budding abstract expressionist movement.