Seeing Paul Klee, the undisputed master of abstract

In the midst of one of its coldest winters, London is still managing to make a success of an exhibition of the works of Paul Klee, one of the world’s biggest names in abstract art. In all probability, Klee is among the very few (if any) who trained in music, but chose visual art instead.

With an entrance fee of £16.50 for adults, The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee — Making Visible, continues to attract art lovers despite the extreme cold. It offers viewers the unique opportunity of seeing ‘Klee’s extraordinary body of work ... in a new light’, including ‘paintings, drawings and watercolours from collections around the world … reunited and displayed alongside each other as the artist originally intended, often for the first time since Klee exhibited them himself’. The exhibition which opened on October 16 last year, will be on till March 9.

The exhibition begins with, the artist’s breakthrough during the First World War, when he first developed his individual abstract patchworks of colour that later became characteristic of his ‘magic square’ paintings. Anyone who sees Klee’s work will agree that his style travels through ‘expressionism, cubism and surrealism — with a touch of orientalism’.

As the child of musical parents, his affinity with music was to be expected, to the extent that Klee has a whole series of art works based on works by famous composers. What is particularly interesting is that while most abstract work might be linked with light music or modern Jazz, Klee prefers classical music. Born in 1879 at Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland, Klee was the second child of German music teacher, Hans Wilhelm Klee, and Swiss singer, Ida Marie Klee. His elder sister, Mathilde, was born in 1876. Their father was trained in singing, piano, organ and violin at the Stuttgart Conservatory where he met Ida, who later became his wife. Hans became the music teacher at the Bern State Seminary, while his wife became a singer and together they encouraged him to train in violin when he was just seven. He was considered ‘so talented on violin’ that at the age of 11, he was invited to ‘play as an extraordinary member of the Bern Music Association’. This formal appreciation gave Klee enough confidence to convince his parents that no matter how well he played the violin, it was not music but art that was closest to his heart.

Klee has been referred to as ‘a natural draftsman who experimented and then got deep into colour theory’. While teaching at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture, he wrote his lectures on the subject of colour in German, which were later published in English as the Paul Klee Note Books. These note books are considered ‘as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘A Treatise on Painting’ for the ‘Renaissance’.

Klee is considered “one of the great creative innovators of the time — witty, inventive, magical — his exquisite paintings resist easy classification ... (when) mentioned in the same breath as Matisse, Picasso … Kandinsky”. His wit is clearly discernable in the following lines: “First of all, the art of living, then as my ideal profession, poetry and philosophy, and as my real profession, plastic arts in the last resort, for lack of income, illustrations.”

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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