"Uns traegt kein Volk." Paul Klee ended a famous lecture on his painting to the members of the 'Kunstverein' in Jena, Germany, in 1924 with these pessimistic words, which mean as much as "No people (of this world) supports us." He did not think that the art he and his fellow Bauhaus Master, Wassily Kandinsky, were working on so doggedly would ever reach a wider public. But Klee was wrong. Even as late as 1953, Georg Schmidt, the director of the Basler Museum, maintained: "Paul Klee's language was still an unintelligible, secret language a few years ago; most people needed a handbook before they could begin to grasp it, but it is now well on the way to being spontaneously intelligible to all, without any such aid."
And now Klee has become a classic whose pictures are reproduced in their thousands. They have established themselves so firmly in the collective memory that seeing the original can be an experience in its own right, a discovery. The fact is that no reproduction-however perfect it may seem- can be a substitute for an original or capture the refinement of Klee's virtuoso, poetic compositions, drenched in light. They are precious things, full of immediate lightness and invention. Often they convey scarcely any sense of the energy and the struggle, the disappointments and the hopes it cost their painter to create them.
Although Klee's oeuvre includes approximately 10,000 works - only Picasso exceeded him in diligence and obsessiveness - every sheet seems like a rare treasure. Each one is evidence of a fight to create a pictorial language that became a stimulus and a source of inspiration for many artists of the Modern period such as Wols and Baumeister as well as de Stael, Miro and Bissier, to say nothing of the debt the Ecole de Paris and American Abstract Expressionism owe him. As well as this, Klee has since become the guiding light of modern art education. His analysis of creative resources and methods still provides a basis for seeing things aesthetically. He makes our view of nature and art lastingly sharper - Paul Klee teaches us how to look in a new way. He was not interested in making his personal style into a dogma: for him all art was an allegory. Tolerance remained the key to his nature: he once finished a term at the Weimar Bauhaus by saying: "I have shown you one way here-I took a different one myself."
Artists are extraordinary people, by profession and by vocation. This is particularly true of Paul Klee, for whom life and work were insolubly joined. It is rare in the history of art to be able to follow an artist's development as precisely as can be done in the case of Klee, who gave a written explanation of every step, however small. This provided a great deal of material for art-historical research, making it possible to examine detail and to mount exhibitions that investigate the individual aspects of his work down to the most subtle of ramifications.
Klee developed a veritable cosmos of pictorial forms, presenting a wealth of creative beauty that has remained unique. Klee was a gardener in a little piece of paradise. Under his direction his charges blossomed beautifully, full of harmony and grace. His motifs seem to develop with consummate ease, almost - it would seem - of their own accord, and whatever basic note he strikes, his colours contrast in such a way that their sound blends in inevitable harmony. Even when he compresses his pictorial resources to the utmost, he never slips into anything uncontrolled or random. Klee formulates subtly sensitive offerings for the viewer's eye, offerings so cautious and gentle that they readily elude consumption in this day and age. Paul Klee's art demands undivided attention - and it is also capable of opening one's eyes to something that lies beyond the image itself.
Public reception of Paul Klee's work occurred predominantly in the period beginning with his early successful exhibitions in Herwarth Walden's gallery Der Sturm in the fall of 1917 and ending with his final move back to Bern in the fall of 1933. Numerous exhibitions, reviews, early biographies, and acquisitions by museums and private collectors document this period, in which Klee intensified his contacts to the art market, made his mark as a teacher and master at the Bauhaus first in Weimar, then in Dessau, and at the Academy in Dusseldorf. This was also the period during which he wrote and published the bulk of his theoretical and pedagogical writings. It seems to have been a time of stability and security in his private life; yet it was also a time of upheavals that affected not only his material position but above all his attitude towards his own oeuvre. Klee began to influence the reception of his work with great deliberation, while presenting himself - and allowing others to present him - as a withdrawn and introspective artist.
Although he never explicitly admitted it, many of his works were in fact very much inspired by his immediate surroundings, the growing demand for his works, his experiences as a teacher and member of the Bauhaus, and the development of his own art theory. The close link between the works and their basis in theory was therefore justly emphasized, drawing attention to the reciprocal and complex interaction between theory and practice as a characteristic of Klee's oeuvre. This is evident not only in individual works, but also in Klee's interaction with his entire body of work. While no specific statements on the part of Klee are documented, his analytical approach - the compilation of an oeuvre catalogue, the attention to mounting and presentation, frequent revisions, renewed exploration or even "recycling" of older works or themes, and especially the concept of forming an estate collection during his lifetime - reveal complexity that is largely still unexplored. What follows is an attempt to illustrate Klee's interaction with his own work between 1917 and 1933.
Klee's Art Oeuvre Catalogue
In 1911 Paul Klee began to enter all the works he had created up until then in a notebook which he described as an oeuvre catalogue. The basic included the date, running number, title and a brief note on technique and/or materials. From time to time he would add information on sales, change of ownership or exhibition history. The most obvious reason for compiling this list was probably Klee's first solo exhibition in Switzerland, for which he was required to provide a list of exhibited works. In a diary entry, which he subsequently revised, he described himself deprecatingly as a bureaucrat for undertaking this task; still, the fact that he compiled such a detailed index in the first place is a reflection of his particular interest in exploring and analyzing his own oeuvre. In contrast to another list, begun while still in high school and abandoned in 1897, the oeuvre catalogue contains only works which the artist himself now deemed as complete. Retrospectively, he struck all the drawings from his youth, various efforts dating back to his time in school and others whose artistic integrity he judged as not fully developed, such as the early landscape drawings and sketchbooks. Klee continued to catalogue his work until shortly before his death, by which time it filled several cloth-bound notebooks and loose-leaf binders. The structure and function of the catalogue underwent several changes. Initially intended as an overview of his production to date to organize his first retrospective, the catalogue later became an important tool that helped the artist to administer his body of work, exhibitions, loans to prospective collectors and sales.
The oeuvre catalogue as such has become a focus of discussion only recently. The main problem is that it was never questioned; instead, it has always been accepted as an infallible source. The process by which it was compiled and the relative character of the chronology it established were completely ignored. Klee's numbering seemed to provide a precise dating of the works, often adopted even during the artist's lifetime, whose accuracy continues to be assumed to this day. It is true that the catalogue corresponds to the artist's own understanding of his work and development, which is readily traced, and that the artist himself insisted that it remain unchallenged by art historians, critics and the public. For a long time, however, this uncritical acceptance of the dates and entries in the catalogue prevented any critical investigation of Klee's self-perception. Even if the chronological convergence or divergence between oeuvre catalogue and working process can be solved for individual pieces, the principal dilemma remains: the strategy of the artist, his own perception and interpretation of the work is still unexplained. In the case of Klee, this is nowhere more evident than in the hand-written oeuvre catalogue. The fact that this list represents a process in which not only works prior to 1911 but also those created at a later time were subjected to a deliberate selection expressed by the existence of an entry and its position, was ignored for a long time. This did little to address the problem of locating the titles of individual works, nor did it answer how the artist reviewed his body of work. The reworking of numerous pieces in the early 1920s and the re-evaluation that went hand in hand with this process was reflected in the catalogue. This development was founded, at least up until 1916, in a process that was by no means linear. Klee's assessment was especially critical with regard to the drawings and paintings prior to 1911. In the end, he included only eighteen of his works from childhood and youth.
It is important to note that Klee didn't immediately include all relevant works, listing them in part only after 1916, and also omitted numerous works to which he either no longer had access or of which he had created two versions. Aside from his childhood drawings, he also abstained from including many other early works. Only Self(1899), Adventurous Fish (1901) and Floating Grace (in the style of Pompeii) (1901) from the period before and during his journey to Rome were at least retrospectively recognized by the artist as worthy of inclusion. As Okuda has shown, the chronology in the registration of these early works was fairly chaotic, perhaps an indicator of Klee's attitude towards his work at that time. By the end of the First World War it had changed, however, and he began to add works created after his return to Bern in 1902 and the move back to Munich in 1906, thereby recognizing these early pieces as finished works of art.
During the First World War, specifically from 1916 onwards, Klee had the catalogue duplicated and from that point forward he continued to keep two copies. The same is true for the period from 1930 to 1933, when he made entries into his "main book" and into a copy. In this manner there was always an up-to-date list in both studios, in Dessau and in Dusseldorf. The early catalogue duplicates, listing works prior to 1921, are particularly helpful in establishing an understanding of the indexing, chronology and the grouping into creative periods of the early entries. This is important with regard to the process involved in establishing titles and subsequent over-painting. The discrepancies between catalogue original and duplicate also provide insight into how Klee developed his cataloguing system, which he began to apply, from the early 1920s on, in other areas as well. The easiest approach is to focus on the accompanying notes, assuming that entries with identical script and writing tools were made in the same period. Although this is not sufficient to establish precise dates, one can differentiate individual cataloguing phases, at least until 1920. From 1918 to 1920 Klee used not only different pens and inks, he also made entries in indelible pencil and India ink. After 1920, he always used a fine-tipped fountain pen and black ink and the notebooks become less distinctive in appearance from that point forward, making any deductions as to grouping etc. more difficult.
It is reasonable to assume, however, that Klee did in fact continue to group works, often retrospectively. The date of creation was not the primary criterion for establishing sequence, as is evident in his notes during the 1920s. Klee grouped paintings, followed by watercolours or coloured works on paper, and then drawings, even if they were sketches for paintings listed higher up, thus providing insight only into each phase of cataloguing, but not into the chronological relationship between the works themselves.
The revisions to titles are a different matter altogether: while they do not decrease overall in the early twenties, they are fairly manageable in scope and there does not seem to be a particular system at work. The titles often reveal the provisional character of the original catalogue entries. In general one can differentiate two approaches, easily spotted in a comparison of original and duplicate. The latter often lists only the original title, without notation of any subsequent changes. The oeuvre catalogue, on the other hand, clearly documents Klee's process to establishing titles of works: in some instances Klee would note a preliminary title in pencil, which he subsequently confirmed in ink; in other cases he revised existing entries. Both approaches demonstrate that Klee reviewed his early work several times and each review was reflected in corresponding revisions. There seems to have been no particular system, for even within individual groupings, catalogued at the same time, or similar works, there is no evident pattern as to why some titles were changed, while others remained the same. The fact that not all pieces in a group or works otherwise related in form and style were subject to such revisions, suggests that Klee regularly revised individual entries in pencil whenever he felt it necessary to do so.
Other characteristics of the handwritten oeuvre catalogue also confirm that it should not be interpreted as definitive. Two aspects in particular support this position: firstly, the rare so-called subsequent entries and secondly Klee's own cross-references to other works. Klee indexed numerous works once he started his catalogue and although works prior to 1911 were theoretically included, it is evident that some were added only at a later date. Okuda cites many examples of subsequent entries in the years 1910 to 1920, concerning 46 pieces in total. Even after the cataloguing system had been consolidated and the artist began to update it fairly regularly, one can still trace omissions, subsequent entries (thus in 1919) or even queries as to the date of individual works. Numbers 251 through 265, for example, are crowded into less space, written with a finer pen tip and in some cases noted on a loose sheet that has been inserted into the notebook pages. Although not explicitly identified as subsequent entries, the style would suggest that that is exactly what they were. In the following year (1920), Klee added an asterisk to some of these entries, marking them down for 1920 instead of 1919, adding the footnote: "Nachbuchung" (or "subsequent entry"). Again in 1920, work No. 26 of the same year is not registered in the catalogue, nor is there any reference to it. In the following year, the entry Landscape near E. in Bavaria, 1921, 182, is accompanied by the note: "perhaps 1920?" His own doubts notwithstanding, Klee never changed the entry although he may well have realized that the style of the piece placed it in a different year. Until the mid-1920s the question of precise or approximate dating was obviously of secondary importance to Klee, whose main focus was clearly the working process itself and the relationship between individual works.
Klee's Cross-Reference System
Klee tried to create a system of references by choosing his titles accordingly and also by noting relationships between works in his oeuvre catalogue. In some cases, the two methods overlapped. 89 drawings bear titles that clearly identify them as precursors to another work or as originals later reprised in a print. In other words, the titles for these drawings were established at a time when titles for the related works already existed or catalogue entries where the running number is included in the title. The titles to a small number of prints, all lithographs based directly on a previous drawing, include information on the original sketches, which clearly predate the lithographs, that is they had already been registered in the catalogue at the time when the lithographs were added to the list. These lithographs are all based on pen and ink drawings, with the exception of two pencil drawings. As was his practice with watercolours, the artist often returned to works created several years earlier. While some early prints were still based on drawings created more or less during the same period, this soon changed and all subsequent graphic works were based on drawings and sketches from 1915/16, illustrating how Klee used printmaking to analyze and study his own work. The titles of etchings never made reference to the drawings they were based on; instead they were listed in a separate category in the oeuvre catalogue. While the early etchings were original in design - in keeping with Adam von Bartsch's postulate that graphic works which are not based on other works have a higher intrinsic artistic value - the lithographs were almost exclusively on just such a practice of reprising images from works executed in other media.
By contrast, drawings whose titles indicate subsequent watercolours and paintings or reference other, earlier drawings are far more frequent. As is the case with the lithographs, the artist's personal view on these works is evident in how rarely they were exhibited. They do, however, provide a record of Klee's efforts at documenting the working process itself, keeping track of the source on which the relevant other works (e.g. paintings) were based. Obviously this record was not intended for public perusal. Klee stopped selling drawings from the mid-1920s onwards and he refused to release, them to his art dealers - although he had been praised as an extraordinary draughtsman. This was an attitude, which he also emphasized to his wife.
Altogether, this approach has resulted in some confusion. The drawings created prior to 1921 and after 1930 were neither mentioned in critiques and other publications nor exhibited; the result being that Klee's contemporaries were largely ignorant of these works. Avid followers could only gain access to this area of Klee's work through the reproductions published in Herwarth Walden's periodical "Der Sturm" and in the "Sturmbilderbuch." The latter were used by Will Grohmann as illustrations for his essay and published in his catalogue of drawings compiled in 1934. Grohmann tried to diminish or even counteract the private nature of the drawings. Although he declared that the drawings were an "equal component in the entire body of work" next to the watercolours and paintings, he overlooked the fact that Klee himself had already applied a traditional hierarchy to his works through the form in which they were entered into his own catalogue. In 1919, Klee had begun to index paintings, followed by water-colours, and thirdly, the corresponding drawings, apparently as the least 'valuable' medium. While this system does little to establish chronological order, it is an expression of Klee's own academic, museological valuation at the beginning of his career. It simplified the task of indexing, since Klee was able to avoid having to repeatedly enter identical information. From this point forward, Klee viewed drawing in a completely different light: what he had previously regarded a medium worthy of exhibition, became an intensely private activity whose main function seemed to be one of preparation. Grohmann was faced with a conflict, and he found himself in the position of having to declare the drawings as a body of work whose usefulness lay in the fact that it served to explain Klee's creative mind and his intentions. For this reason alone, they should be ranked as highly as the paintings and watercolours. On the opening pages of his book, Grohmann was therefore careful to emphasize that the drawings express everything that is implied in the paintings and watercolours, for "all that Klee has to say is fully contained within them, inasmuch as it can be expressed by graphic means." Accordingly, Grohmann was able to "fully define the character of Klee's art (...) on the basis of the drawings." Naturally he was only able to do so by representing Klee as a metaphysical artist - very much in keeping with Klee's own self-mythologization - capable of imaging fundamental human values and themes by plumbing the depths of his own inner self. The unconscious, which played an important role in this process and could only find spontaneous expression - in analogy to ecriture automatique- is the central idea in Grohmann's interpretation, thus transforming the private nature of the drawings into an inherent quality of the creative personality.
While this evaluation by Grohmann corresponded to Klee's basic attitude, it seemed to invest the drawings with far greater importance than their exhibition history - or lack thereof- seemed to suggest. Few drawings were exhibited in the 1920s and early 1930s, and the inclusion of drawings in the three major retrospectives - 1920 in Munich, 1923 in Berlin and 1935 in Bern - varied widely. In 1920, Klee's main intention was to present himself as a painter, and the drawing component of the show was relatively small with 103 exponents. The Berlin retrospective, on the other hand, aimed at offering a more comprehensive overview of his graphic work, focusing especially on the second half of the 1910s and the years immediately after the end of the First World War. By contrast the Bern retrospective treated drawings in an almost marginal manner.
While several drawings were included in the two major exhibitions of collections - the Ralf collection in Berlin in 1930 and the Hannah Burgi collection in 1937 - this was largely due to the composition of these private collections. The presentation of these exponents was hardly sufficient to provide the public with an overview of Klee's body of graphic work. It is fair to say that Klee withheld this area of his art, so explicitly valued by Grohmann, from the public eye in all these major exhibitions, especially the three retrospectives. Very few people could therefore gain first-hand knowledge of Klee's graphic work, and the bulk of these works, especially those that served as studies for other works, remained largely unknown. This allowed Klee and his biographers to promote the impression that the watercolours and paintings were entirely spontaneous and original visions, even though Klee had an enormous inventory of drawings, which had clearly served as preliminary studies, and which he carefully documented and utilized through his own system of cross-references.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, Klee's other method of establishing a reference system was to annotate relationships between works in his oeuvre catalogue. Klee developed both methods discussed here more or less concurrently: the annotations begin to appear in the catalogue around the same time as the cross-references appear in the titles of drawings. More examples have been found for this second method, 285 altogether encompassing works from 1904 to the early 1930s.
The notes not only served to highlight a close relationship between individual works, but also to point to other, much earlier, principles and ideas that may have taken on importance in a new context or served as an inspiration many years later. Seen in this light, one can readily understand why the annotations are the most voluminous of all the catalogue entries, nearly four times as much as the notes on later works or notes made when a work was first catalogued. The retrospective addition of these references clearly demonstrates that Klee not only re-evaluated his drawings throughout the 1920s, but also applied the method to much earlier drawings. He even revisited drawings from his journey in 1914 to Tunisia, and the drawings from the early war years. This process of self-referencing - both with regard to earlier drawings and newer works in colour and with regard to drawings and paintings created during the same period - seems to contradict Klee's self-mythologization and the image that was in part promoted by biographers and art critics. Like Grohmann and Einstein, they postulated the spontaneous and extraordinary subjectivity in the artist's work. This impression could only be maintained, however, for as long as the watercolours and paintings were studied in isolation from the drawings that had preceded them.
There exists an entire group of works, where this separation was vitally important from a marketing perspective: the oil transfer drawings, which Klee also described as original transfer drawings or oil drawings. Derived from sketches and drawings, technically speaking, they are in truth a hybrid between original and reproduction, being both unique works in the manner of a monoprint but at the same time the product of a printmaking process. Although varying in colour, they are distinct above all in their quality of line, which clearly echoes the original drawing, without, however, displaying any of the characteristics of printmaking.
Klee viewed these oil transfer drawings very differently from the lithographs. In both cases he tended to simply vary or directly copy an existing drawing. Ever since his contribution to the SEMA portfolio, he tended to regard lithography as a relatively minor art form. Conversely, his dedication to oil transfer was considerable. The number alone - 340 altogether - is proof of Klee's strong interest in this medium. Based on his drawings on transfer paper from 1911, Klee didn't continue his experiments with the transfer process until 1919 and it was then that he discovered oil transfer or oil drawings. No doubt the greater remuneration for coloured works on paper (two to three times the price of drawings) was a contributing factor in his attempts to achieve a more efficient approach to his watercolour production, but this can hardly have been the main inspiration. While Klee usually copied the composition, lines and hatching from the drawings, the difference in scale between drawing and transfer sheet, the placement of the drawing on the sheet, the colouring and other modifications demonstrate that he was not pursuing a form of mechanical colouration or quasi-industrial production of watercolours. Rather, he applied this technique as a rigorous translation of his ideas on composition and colour onto paper. Klee's penchant for experimentation with materials - discussed by Haxthausen - is rarely evident in the more conventional prints, pencil or pen and ink drawings. It is, however, very much in evidence in the oil transfer drawings, especially in those that served as models for subsequent paintings. In 49 pieces, some of which are paintings, Klee developed original ideas previously sketched in one or two drawings, which he then transferred. In each case, however, he incorporated additional colours and experimented with a variety of primers and backgrounds to expand the expressive impact of the drawing. These basic differences between paintings based on an oil transfer drawing or a watercolour and the drawings that had preceded them are immediately apparent in a direct comparison of such works.
The original model for the drawing Fire Wind, (1922) on which Klee based a painting of the same title in the following year (registered in early 1923 as entry number 43), was a painting on paper, which Klee had entered into his catalogue at the beginning of 1922 under the number 17. In the original he had used a variety of motifs, some dating back to earlier works, and adhered to a nearly monochromatic, dark tonality enlivened with a few light red and beige accents. In the following, he reprised the window motif with the S-shaped forms and lines that were linked in perspective to the edges and corners of the principal figure. Rather than setting the composition into a horizontal format, as in the first painting, he enhanced it dynamically with patterns of movement set along the left margin and accentuated the placement with a narrow house added on the right side. Still, Klee took care not to over-emphasize the vertical or portrait format. Thus the surface of the paper, textile in appearance and enhanced with the hatched lines, which is an important visual component in the work, stands in marked contrast to the apparent movement of the motif.
The painting based on this drawing has a completely different effect. The lines - in pencil in the drawing, oil transfer in the painting - have lost their original lightness and characteristic variation. They are superimposed on the animated, modulated oil underpainting as wide, solid black lines. The differentiation in the drawing - expressed in a darker line for the principal S-shape, finer lines leading the eye towards the figure, and as horizontal hatched lines - has been abandoned in favour of an emphasis on contour. The lines no longer serve to stress movement or fine gradations, but serve as boundaries between different colour fields in the image. This new sense of weight and solidity and the completely changed appearance of the image is emphasized by the vertical format, although the entire composition is less constrained in the image frame than it is in the drawing.
Similar observations can be made of the Fish Image, 1925, although here two drawings were placed one above the other to create the composition for the painting. Klee would sometimes focus on a detail in a drawing as a model for an oil transfer, at other times he would combine two or more drawings into a new composition. The advantage of this technique was that it offered great freedom in modifying existing compositions. In doing so, Klee would never simply transfer every aspect he had developed in the drawings. In Fire Wind, 1923, 43, Klee also transferred all the hatched lines, albeit somewhat coarsened in texture. In the case of the two drawings, subsequently combined into the aforementioned painting Fish Image, 1925, 5, he omitted some of the hatched lines in the upper section, while reproducing others more forcefully. The most remarkable aspect, however, is the effect of the two drawings in combination. The first drawing for Fish Image (1925, 5), catalogued in 1924 as drawing number 279, is very self-contained and solidly grounded along the lower edge of the sheet; the second drawing for Fish Image (1925, 5), listed in 1924 as drawing number 280, on the other hand, is a vertical arrangement of fish images; in combination, the two drawings achieve a compositional whole. One has to be very familiar with Klee's specific oil transfer technique to realize that the linear component is based on drawings and that the work is in principle a transfer of previous pieces. The visual and tactile quality of the mounting surface is of little importance in terms of material aesthetic. The opposite was obviously intended; in other words, the artist did not wish to create the impression that the oil transfer itself was an original drawing. It is remarkable to note that there are 99 cases of oil transfers where no related drawing has been located or identified, all the more surprising as the process by definition requires an original. It is possible that Klee preserved and registered only some of the drawings used for oil transfers, or that some were destroyed in the process itself. Chronologically, however, the oil transfers must have been realized prior to mounting the relevant drawings on cardboard, as was Klee's practice, and titling and entering the work into the oeuvre catalogue.
Mounting and Presentation as Visual Means
Klee's third approach to revisiting his works after completion was to address the issue of presentation. This was so vitally important to Klee, that he not only did most of his own framing, in some instances even painting the frames, but also mounted all his own drawings on cardboard, sometimes with a coloured border. Klee had begun early on to mount works on paper on cardboard, on which he noted at least the date, and later also the full catalogue number, usually the title, and sometimes even a dedication. The mounting and registration process is rarely identical. Some early works were obviously mounted at a later date, as is documented in the style of identification or the identifying information is executed in two different media (e.g. pencil or ink) pointing to different dates for mounting and catalogue registration. As we have shown in the section on catalogue registration, this process was rarely completed by simply mounting the work on cardboard, at least in the period preceding the early 1920s. The variety in writing tools prior to 1911 suggests that these may have been mounted at an earlier date and re-evaluated after he began the oeuvre catalogue, a process that led to revisions and additions in some cases. There is little consistency, however, evident in the fact that the style and method of identification for some early works matches that used at the beginning of the 1920s. As Okuda has shown, this may indicate that changes were made to some works at a later time.
These different styles of identification can serve as a rough guide to establishing the period in which pieces were mounted or titled. While most early works were simply marked by year and corresponding oeuvre number, later drawings bear the title on a separate line on the cardboard, usually with title on one side and work number on the other side. Klee applied both styles throughout the 1910s without any apparent system. Only after 1918 did the horizontal ink line appear, the so-called border mark. Sometimes it underlined the title and the work number, but often it served as a dividing line between the drawing and the entry. From 1919 onwards, we see the emergence of two such lines, one above and one below the drawing, as a kind of linear frame. Generally speaking, Klee applied this system mostly to drawings in the beginning; cardboard-mounted watercolours or small canvasses were similarly identified only at a later date. At around the same time, circa 1919, Klee began to move the identification, i.e. title and work number, from the left or right corner of the sheet to the bottom margin and to underline it. This structured the space beneath the drawing and also influenced the appearance of the mount. It also provided Klee with ample room in which to annotate a particular title and work number.
Klee rarely signed drawings directly on the paper itself. It was his habit to mount all works on paper onto cardboard, a practice from which he deviated only once. An acquaintance had offered to transport several pieces to art dealer Kahnweiler in Paris without going through the usual customs procedures. In this case, Klee marked the title and work number on the reverse.
Watercolours, on the other hand, were often accompanied not only by the aforementioned margin lines, but also by full borders or even other coloured strips of paper, which gradually became important means of accentuating the effect of the mount. Klee began using the strip of (coloured) paper only shortly after the First World War. Again, these borders were often added at a later time when Klee was (re-)mount-ing an earlier work, in a process similar to his revisions of titles and notes. It was a means to further develop the marginal strips, for these were delineated with an ink line. The single or dual lines that had previously formed a horizontal border had changed into a wider strip that clearly separated the work from its presentation surface. Generally speaking, both the borders and the frames were harmonized with the watercolour, creating a clear visual separation but also enhancing the unifying quality. The result is an ambivalent relationship between mount and work. While the border is clearly part of the mount by virtue of its material, its colouring acts as a mediator between the work and the mount: the relationship is closer than in other pieces that are separated only by a margin line or not at all. The border blurs, but does not eliminate, the boundary between image and mounting.
This phenomenon is more pronounced in works surrounded by a border on all sides. The border isolates the work from the cardboard in the manner of a painting frame. As a result, the work appears more centered on the cardboard. Whether the work was executed on paper or on fabric such as canvas or gauze has little bearing, since the latter were often supplied with a paper backing. Another method, independent of the immediate image surface, was to mount the original sheet, etc., onto a second sheet of paper or to attach strips of paper along the sides, which were in turn either painted or simply monochrome papers. For purposes of accentuation, Klee preferred coloured or metallic paper, usually gold or silver. All works mounted in this manner, most created up until the early 1920s, and especially small works, are visually enhanced in this manner and achieve an effect that is almost like a painting.
But Klee's vivid interest in presentation is not only expressed in his attention to selecting mounting materials and styles. In a letter to his future wife Lily he notes how a small painting had gained much from being set into a traditional frame, although the frame profile was not entirely satisfying and Klee mentions that he may replace it with plain strips at some later date. The advantage of beveled frames was their strong, albeit understated cross-section, which "provides a delightful contrast to the flat style of my works and is an external aid to elevate the compositions onto a pictorial plane." This excerpt shows that the frame was evaluated with regard to its contribution to the overall visual effect and with view to making a work suitable for exhibition. In this case, the artist worked with an existing frame, whose measurements fit the work. A suitable frame was finally selected through a process of experimenting with different solutions.
Studio shots from Munich and Weimar document this approach: some works are simply placed inside a frame, without attaching them, to test the effect. At the same time, these photographs reveal that Klee always studied the effect of a painting first, before moving on to the next step of finding an appropriate frame. Important or much-admired pieces were only hung on the studio wall once they were framed, sometimes to the point where the studio took on an atmosphere of an exhibition, such as in the Weimar studio or in the master's house in Dessau. All the works in this area of the studio were framed and hung as they would be in a gallery setting. The artist's preference for individual works is clearly evident. In Weimar and in Dessau, Klee found a prominent spot for the painting Monastery Garden, 1926, less by setting it apart from others, than by ensuring that it dominated the wall.
The photographs also show that Klee used a variety of types of frames with differing characteristics. Aside from the traditional frames, which he used from the very beginning, we notice the emergence, from circa 1919 onwards, of plain strips attached to the stretchers to form a narrow edge frame. While this marked the boundary between image and surrounding surface, the separation is less accentuated. Even the beveled frames, which Klee continued to use, illustrate that in all cases the overall effect took precedence, with the frame clearly subordinate to the (aesthetic) demands of the image field. Klee tended to favour a plain profile especially for paintings that were particularly strong either in colour or in motif, to add depth to the image. Despite his focus on the importance of framing and presentation, he would agree to change a particular frame if the existing one proved unsatisfactory to a collector, for example. In 1936, Othmar Huber bought the painting Dwarf Fairy Tale, 1925, 255 (Z 5). Huber seemed irritated by the narrow frame, for he asked for permission to attach a second frame around the original framing strips. Klee asked his wife to respond that he agreed "that you can arrange to have a second silver strip, approx. 4 cm wide, attached to the frame. This would undoubtedly enhance the effect of the image on the wall. Another, albeit more elaborate, solution would be (to cover the walls) in a neutral wallpaper."
The original image surface was a vertical oval cardboard, later mounted onto another cardboard, which was nailed to a wood frame and surrounded by narrow framing strips. It is unclear why Klee did not preserve the original oval shape, for there are many cases where the same approach to framing did not cause him to change the orientation of the image at the centre. Here, however, he emphasized the oval within the tall rectangular frame by drawing the eye to it through a light-brown edge. The material properties of this edge identify it as belonging to the second, markedly recessed cardboard, i.e. the same plaster priming and structure. At the same time it creates a visual link between image and mount. But since the edge doesn't simple follow the curve of the oval, widening to the left and the right sides, it diminishes the vertical orientation of the oval. The edge of the latter is not covered by the plaster priming; on the contrary, the internal image field appears as an embossed surface and thus as the primary component of the painting.
Only the secondary component of the painting, that is the rectangular cardboard covered in plaster primer, is enclosed by brown framing strips. Thus the double frame has not only functional meaning for the presentation of the work, as it does in other instances, but the frame and the manner of surround combine into a unique three-dimensional structure that separates the work even more from its surroundings.
Klee also took care to preserve his work behind glass. What is surprising, is the intensity with which he investigated a wide variety of presentation options. The setting into customized frames, the experimentation with a variety of borders and the process of mounting the works became important factors through which the artist could determine the effect his works would have.
The Creative Process
The mounting on cardboard, Klee's desire to re-evaluate paintings and modify details, the cross-referencing, the relationship between drawing and oil transfer, or drawing, oil transfer with watercolour wash and painting, on the other hand, all demonstrate that the artist's involvement with any given piece wasn't necessarily completed upon entering it into the catalogue. As we have shown, many motifs were repeatedly explored, existing works fragmented and such details elaborated in a number of ways. These are all standard creative processes on the path to the final realization of a work of art. It is therefore not unusual that Klee, too, frequently explored similar or even identical motifs again and again. What is unusual is the timeframe and the intensity with which he did so, but not the fact in and of itself. In this context, the fragmentation of existing compositions offers a more specific and interesting line of inquiry. Kersten and Okuda have conclusively explained how the cutting up or dividing into parts of works represented a highly conscious method that was integral to the entire process. Here one must differentiate between dissected and reconfigured works and those that derive from details taken out of a larger original composition, whereby the new sections were treated as individual pieces of work.
Both approaches spring from the same source, namely Klee's own dissatisfaction with a particular piece or his view that a work was somehow unfinished. The attitude towards his oeuvre, however, is fundamentally different in each case. In the case of recombining existing parts, a composition is first cut into pieces, which are then re-assembled on the same cardboard into a new composition. Far from being a purely destructive process, this method subscribes to an inherently constructive principle. Thus far, studies have shown that the parts were newly assembled and then reworked in detail, or that the new assemblage of otherwise unchanged pieces constituted a new piece in itself. This is the categorical difference between these and other works, which Klee also cut into pieces, but where he treated each individual piece as a new work on its own, to be mounted separately and modified if he deemed it necessary. The latter approach erased any concrete link to the original image.
The reverse sides or images, which were used as surfaces on which to mount other works, are a different matter altogether and come to light only in the course of conservation efforts. In some drawings the presence of additional drawings on the reverse side is obvious, because the medium has bled through. It is much more difficult to determine similar instances in paintings. Nevertheless, 38 paintings have thus far been discovered, which were completely covered over by another layer. These are efforts, which Klee rejected out of hand, that is he did not select them for further work. Instead of destroying them, he simply reused the surface.
A typical example is the painting Jumper, 1930, executed in watercolour and pen and ink on cotton, and originally mounted onto a plywood. This board in turn was covered in a composition, probably an oil painting from 1929, which Klee later chose to reject. More frequently, however, Klee followed the practice of many artists, by simply turning the surface over and painting onto the other side.
Naturally Klee never entered cast-offs into his oeuvre catalogue. Nor did he note the cutting up, over-painting or restoration of damaged sections. And here scholarly investigations of Klee and his art encounter a very specific problem. Naturally Klee never included cast-off pieces, be it that they were on the reverse side or used as a mounting surface for another work, into his oeuvre catalogue. Nor did he note the cutting up, painting over or restoration of damaged sections. This is precisely the point where scholarly studies of Klee and his art encounter a very specific problem. The work Botanical Theatre, 1934, perfectly illustrates this problem. Klee probably began to work on this painting in 1923. In 1924, he entered a painting into the catalogue that might be identical to the Botanical Theatre from a technical perspective. The fact that the first version of the painting bore a different title, listed in the catalogue as Tropical Landscape, is certainly interesting but not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that we have precise information of the period during which Klee focused on this painting. He finished it on July 10, 1934, entered it into the catalogue under that year and with the work number and title by which it is still known today. Surprisingly, both dates are inscribed in the top left corner of the painting, directly beneath the signature, for the numbers "24, 34" can hardly constitute a catalogue number. Firstly, Klee always indicated years by all four digits, and secondly he had already registered a drawing under this work number, a fact he would not have overlooked.
He eradicated the process that ultimately led to this painting. The prerequisites and the duration of the working process, and thus the cross-referential context and the stylistic evolution, are erased, surviving only as an outcome in the finished piece, but no longer as an active, creative exploration. Since Klee rarely chose the time of completion as a date for the catalogue entry, instead citing the time when a work was begun, thereby negating the fact that he had reworked the same piece, the numbers and dates given to any particular piece can at best communicate when Klee worked on it, and not when it was completed. Klee's numbering process adds to the confusion. Early biographers of Klee's work simply accepted these numbers as accurate, without any further critical investigation, thus building a body of research and reference literature that negates the procedural character of the genesis, and reinforces the myth of spontaneous, unstudied creation. Botanical Theatre, 1934, is by no means an isolated case. Closer analysis of this painting clearly reveals the individual phases. A comparison with Klee's entries into the oeuvre catalogue in 1923 shows that he must have begun with this piece at around the same time. Some of the figures and the central composition are characterized by the hatched lines that defined the principal form, a stylistic element which he only developed during that year. In contrast to the subsequent development, which should be placed circa 1924, these hatched lines maintain an inherent transparency of background. Only in the following year are the lines combined into a dense structure-visible in the areas along the left and right edge of the painting-that results in a medium-light, rather colourless monochromatic appearance. The flower motifs were added in a third phase, circa 1925 or 1926; these are strongly reminiscent of the floral figures, called 'radiolars,' and positioning of plants in deliberately discontinuous space and lack of perspectival depth. This addition alone creates an internal tension, since different, mutually exclusive intentions collide in the same image. The style thus far, corresponding at least to some degree to conventional ideas on space and perspective, is largely overthrown. In contrast to the cubist dissection of space, which Klee practised prior to and at the beginning of the First World War, individual elements are now shifted into a frontal perspective and placed side by side on the same plane. The next step, which brings us forward to 1930, continued the exploration of plant motifs and the problem of perspective, but focused above all on a different structure of colour, which Klee developed around 1925, but had not applied in a similarly expansive and dominant manner before 1930. Using a wide brush, he applied colour in a manner that produced a secondary structure with a unique effect that was independent of the composition. The final steps - and here we can no longer differentiate between individual areas, at least stylistically - aimed at integrating the different preceding phases to give the piece a more homogeneous appearance.
This entire process is negated by the apparent precision of the number and date entry. As a result, we are denied access to this individual piece as a manifestation of the artist's creative development or his reflection on his own work. Instead, the artist postulates a non-genetic finality in surprising contradiction of his own art theory. This entire process is negated by the apparent precision of the number and date entry. As a result, we are denied access to this individual piece as a manifestation of the artist's creative development or his reflective investigation of his own work. Instead, the artist postulates a non-genetic finality, surprisingly in stark contrast to Klee's own utterances on the theory of art.
Gifts, Dedications and the Estate Collection
The last aspect of Klee's approach to his own body of work was largely concerned with its economic value by defining prices, reserving works as not for sale or presenting pieces as gifts to family members, friends and collectors. Klee exchanged works with some of his artist friends, always ensuring that such exchanges answered not only to the purpose or preferences of his colleague, but also represented a comparable value for what he received in turn.
Similar principles were applied to gifts made to family members or collectors. The dedications generally include not only the name of the recipient, but also the occasion. Most collectors who received a gift from Klee, had lent their support to the Klee society, an association formed to provide financial assistance to Klee and which furnished the artist with a fixed monthly income. In turn, the artist agreed to put together a portfolio from which members of the association could purchase works at preferred prices. The pieces included in these portfolios are generally not marked with personal dedications. Klee simply made a selection of works and ensured that they were circulated to the members. At Christmas 1927, however, four sheets received individual dedications: one each for Rudolf Ibach, Heinrich Stinnes, Werner Vowinckel and Hannah Burgi. Only Ibach received a watercolour, moreover one from the preceding year, the others all received one drawing from 1927 each. By choosing the watercolour, Klee complemented a selection of other pieces which Ibach had acquired, rounding out the collection with this present. Just as his gift to Ibach was a gesture to acknowledge his patron's previous purchases and his efforts in the context of the Art Association in Barm, the gift of the drawings was also a means to recognize the efforts of the other collectors. As mentioned earlier on, Klee did not sell drawings, but he would present them as gifts from time to time. This decision was not solely based on financial considerations. It allowed him to offer something to his collectors which was otherwise not available. Moreover, the selection was always made in careful consideration of the other pieces already in each collector's ownership.
The same is true of the gifts presented to Will Grohmann, Alois Schardt and Georg Schmidt, the three art historians whose influence on his career had been considerable in the 1920s and 1930s. It was rare for Klee to make such gifts - aside from exchanges with other artists or gifts to his wife Lily. But he made an exception in the case of these three art historians. In return for financing the journey to Tunisia, Klee had given several works to Charles Bornand and duly noted so in his oeuvre catalogue; in yet another instance, Klee had expressed his thanks for receiving a cat with a drawing of a cat. Thus the gifts to the art historians should be seen in a similar light. As was the case with collectors, these were hardly unconditional gifts; rather, each piece was presented in recognition of an act of support, of which Klee was only too aware, no matter how 'private' the gesture may have been. The rare occasions on which Klee presented a gift to gallery owners and art dealers were slightly different in nature. They generally responded to some concrete event, although rarely a direct material value. It would be wrong to say that all art dealers, with whom Klee maintained lively contact, were the beneficiaries of such donations. Obviously, the decision to donate a work was primarily based on whether he viewed the dealer first and foremost as a person in charge of an institution that was of vital economic importance to him, or as a friend. Dealers with whom he had only professional contact were not included in the circle of gift recipients, with the exception of Alfred Flechtheim, to whose fiftieth anniversary portfolio Klee contributed a piece. Galka Scheyer, on the other hand, who was not only a collector but also tried to promote his work in the United States, received several pieces.
The third instance, finally, refers to gifts and dedications to friends and family members. Friends, such as all Hans Bloesch or the Galston family, received gifts on various occasions. Some marked specific events, such as a birthday. The gifts to the Galston family generally commemorate experiences that had obviously made a profound impression on Klee, who was especially close to their young daughter Fiorina Irene to whom he presented several gifts in an effort to distract her from her illness.
Klee was much more likely to give works to family members than to friends. Already in his youth, Klee had presented several works to his aunts without marking a particular occasion. Some works presented to family members, his wife Lily or a small circle of friends, carry specific dedications, but most of the pieces given to his parents or his sister are without dedications. The volume of these gifts is considerable, even if most are early pieces, although those given to Mathilde were entered into the oeuvre catalogue in contrast to the gifts his parents received. Most are drawings, although the gifts include a few watercolours and one Hinterglas or 'behind-glass' painting. Later works and especially paintings were never presented as gifts.
The artist's gifts to his wife Lily are a different matter. With the exception of an early etching and two drawings, both especially selected - one through the title and the other through inclusion in their guest book - Lily received almost exclusively watercolours and paintings. The etching aside, Lily's presents did not include examples of his early work or of his mature work after 1934. Lily received predominantly works created in the 1920s and early 1930s, probably at her own wish. It seems that she felt especially drawn to the pieces created in 1923, for she received three from that year alone, one in her guest book and two watercolours, given over the course of the years and retrospectively dedicated to her. Surprisingly Klee chose original works as Christmas and birthday presents only twice. Invariably his selections for Lily focused on restrained and gentle pieces.
The Estate Collection
Even prior to entering into his contract with Hans Goltz, Klee had identified several works as 'not for sale' although they were included in commercial exhibitions. In other words, he began to differentiate early in his career between works that were intended for sale, drawings for gifts and donations with appropriate dedications, and a third category, works that would eventually form an estate collection. With regard to the body of work released for sale after 1925, especially works on paper, Klee developed a system of pricing by classifying the individual pieces into categories. This applies to all works, including his early oeuvre, in as much as they were brought onto the market after 1925. Naturally the price is a reflection of Klee's of own valuation of a particular piece. It is still unclear how Klee arrived at this system and what his criteria were in defining categories. In the following, an attempt is made to reconstruct his approach at least with regard to the estate collection.
It is important to distinguish between the works chosen explicitly for the estate collection - i.e. pieces that were exhibited but from the outset reserved for the artist's private collection - and those, which were excluded from the body of work for sale because the artist had given them a special price category. The importance of this differentiation lies less in any conclusions one might draw with regard to the artist's own evaluation, but as an indication of the fluctuations in the intensity with which Klee analysed his own oeuvre over the course of time. And it is especially instructive to consider which pieces Klee selected from his impressive and extensive body of work as being so significant that he wanted to reserve them for himself or as part of his estate. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between the motivation behind the selection and the time when it was made: the reservation of works for his own collection served Klee's interests at the time; the concept of an estate collection, on the other hand, reflects a desire to direct the reception of his artistic legacy.
Dedication of a work by an artist to himself is perhaps the most spontaneous form of evaluating his own work, and astonishing as it may seem, Klee did so in two cases. Both must have occurred after his return to Bern in the fall of 1933, for both had previously been left for sale with Rudolf Probst. But when Probst returned his inventory to the artist in November 1933, the shipment included these two pieces. Music at the Fair, 1924 and A Garden for Orpheus, 1926 were by then nearly ten years old. Evidently, receiving these works once again into his own possession prompted a re-valuation and the artist reserved them for his private collection. While both works are representative of Klee's work in the 1920s both in technique and in style, they are unique in terms of theme and artistic vision. After inclusion in various shows prior to his emigration, these pieces were not included in any of the major exhibitions Klee mounted in the 1930s.
Klee showed similar restraint in the selection of works reserved for his private collection. While two pieces were marked as 'private collection', it is unclear what Klee's vision of such a collection was. And the few examples of works chosen from the studio in Bern do little to cast a light on this issue. However, three major exhibitions no doubt helped to establish a more concrete idea in the artist's mind. These were the exhibitions in Bern, Basle and Lucerne, conceived not as museum retrospectives but as sales exhibitions. The exhibition catalogues include Klee's price recommendations as well as his thoughts on the unsuitability for sale of individual works, which he expressed only with regard to two works in the three exhibitions. Clearly, there was no established terminology. Works listed as 'not for sale' in one catalogue, were listed as 'private collection' in another. For all three exhibitions Klee chose exclusively works created after 1919. Earlier pieces and even works from his journey to Tunisia, which had helped to establish his career, were not included in these exhibitions, which focused on the 1920s. Very few loans were included, with the exception of a few pieces from Hannah Burgi's collection for the Basle exhibition. The number of exponents aside, the exhibitions differed in terms of emphasis and layout. The first in the series, the exhibition in Bern, presented Klee's work with over one hundred paintings and some 150 watercolours, offering a comprehensive overview of his work since 1919 and ending with the recently finished painting Botanical Theatre, 1934. The watercolours were selected from a much later date onward, that is after 1925, while his selection of drawings was even more radical, showing only pieces from the year prior to the exhibition. The exhibition in Basle followed a similar approach, paintings and watercolours were listed separately in the catalogue and cover the same periods as those shown in Bern. The selection was smaller in scope, however. Notable, too, was the exclusion of drawings, which were only shown again in the following year in Lucerne. There, the exhibition was structured in a radically different way. Paintings and watercolours were no longer presented as separate categories, and only a few drawings were reserved as not for sale, as they had been in Bern, or without price recommendation, as in Basle. Several works, both paintings and watercolours, were identified as 'not for sale' or as 'private collection' in at least two of the three exhibitions.
The selection for these exhibitions is a reflection of Klee's own evaluation of the works during each period: not all pieces were included in each exhibition and he changed his mind with regard to which pieces were marked as 'not for sale.' By contrast, the selection for the planned estate collection was more definitive, albeit more limited. In addition to one print each from the lithograph editions of Vulgar Comedy, 1922, 100, and Witch with Comb, 1922, 101, this preliminary estate selection included only one behind-glass painting and one painting on canvas from 1919.
Still, these three areas represented only a small portion of the estate collection of works in colour. Most of the approximately two hundred and fifty were 'selected' by virtue of elevating them into a certain price category. In these cases he did not adhere to his own system of eight price categories, but gathered these works into a category of their own, which he labelled 'Sonderklasse.' This category included works that were not for sale, either to private collectors or to museums, but which could be shown in exhibitions. Retrospectively nearly half the works shown were included in this special category. Klee had begun to classify his works in accordance with a fixed pattern of prices only after his contract of exclusivity with Goltz was cancelled. Thus all price categories as well as the application of the special category to works created prior to 1926 were retrospective evaluations. There is no evidence of fixed criteria, although an investigation of some pieces, which Klee cut into pieces and subsequently included in the 'Sonderklasse' sheds some light on the issue. It was rare that an entire grouping of new pieces created in this manner (see the paragraphs on Klee's approach to 'recycling' works and reassembling them into new pieces) were included in the special category. Most of the time, Klee reserved only one fragment for the special category, assigning the other fragments to one of the standard price categories. While the criteria for selection are difficult to reconstruct, we have more insight into the organization Klee envisioned for his estate collection.
It is worth noting that Klee introduced this area of his oeuvre with a colour drawing, which dates back to his stay in Italy, while including few other early pieces in the estate. With a mere five works up to 1910, this phase in the artist's career is clearly underrepresented, especially when one considers that he rarely sold any of the paintings behind glass. This seemed to confirm the impression that he no longer valued the early work, which had consisted mostly of drawings, after 1920. They were rarely included in exhibitions and very few were added to the special category reserved for the estate collection. His treatment of subsequent decades was quite different. Following his years in the Blue Rider, he took care to include a representative selection from that period in the special category, even though this selection was once again made retrospectively and only after he had experienced his first successes with these works. It is therefore hardly surprising that most of the works which Klee included in this 'Sonderklasse' fall into the period between his journey to Tunis and his teaching activities at the Academy in Dusseldorf. Klee included few of his works created after his return to Bern in the 1930s in the special category - a contrast to his active exhibition history during that time and his shipments to Kahnweiler, confirmation that this was a tremendously productive period. There is no doubt that Klee's selections from his own body of work for a special category reflect the artist's personal evaluation of his own works against the background of their reception at the time, offering us a unique insight into the artist's view of his own early and late work.
This contribution is the first exhaustive attempt at constructing an overview of Paul Klee's management of his own artistic output on the basis of the catalogue raisonne.
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