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Paul Klee in Philadelphia Collections

October 3, 1987–January 3, 1988

Paul Klee (1879-1940), celebrated for his luminous use of color and for the rich fantasy world he created, once described his technique as "taking a line for a walk." His interest in line, tonality, and color resulted in an innovative body of works on paper, which constitute the greatest part of his artistic output. His reaction against his academic training was first expressed in a series of 11 etched grotesque inventions of 1903-05, through which he used anatomical distortion to satirize bourgeois society. In 1914 he traveled to Tunisia where, in the bright southern light, he painted a series of watercolors in which naturalistic drawing is combined with fields of abstract color squares. Works such as Landscape with Three Bluebirds, with its warm hues and ascending diagonals, reflect the artist's excitement in his new-found success with color.

The years Klee spent at the Bauhaus in Germany (1921-31), which espoused a balance of theory with technique, of art with craft, proved to be his most fertile. He began producing subtle and technically complex lithographs such as Queen of Hearts, 1921, in which he seems to delight in fingerprints and other spontaneous effects. He also experimented with the oil transfer, which allowed him to trace a drawing through a "carbon paper" coated with an oily ink or paint. Klee valued the oil transfer for the texture it gave to his line, and for the feeling of atmosphere imparted by accidental smudges. His innovations were used to great effect in such works as The Saint of the Inner Life, 1921, in which oil transfer, spatter paint, and brushed tusche create a subtle, shifting atmospheric veil from which the inward-looking figure of the saint glows forth. This exhibition is drawn from the Museum's unusually strong collection of works on paper by Paul Klee, most of which are from his Bauhaus period. Klee created just over 100 prints, and of these fewer than 60 were produced in editions of 10 or more. Thus with 22 images, including all six of the artist's color prints, the Museum has a significant portion of his graphic oeuvre. The prints are displayed with 13 watercolors, one ink drawing, and four paintings owned by the Museum, supplemented by a number of works borrowed from Philadelphia private collections.

Main Building


Robert Wolterstorff
Ann Percy

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