Paul Klee was left-handed. But he could paint with both hands. Many of his Bauhaus students were so deeply impressed by the artistic skills of the impassioned painter that they dedicated their own works to him. Often derided as infantile, Klee’s reduced style of painting caught the modern spirit of the times.

Portrait of Paul Klee, photo: Hugo Erfurth, 1927. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
Portrait of Paul Klee, photo: Hugo Erfurth, 1927. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

From 1899 to 1906, Paul Klee studied in Munich, first of all at a private school run by Heinrich Knirr and then at the academy of art under Franz von Stuck. His first solo exhibition took place in Switzerland in 1910. In the ensuing years, Klee developed his contacts with the artists Alfred Kubin and Wassily Kandinsky and participated in the second Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) exhibition. In 1912, he travelled to Paris and met artists of the French avant-garde, including Robert Delaunay and Henri Le Fauconnier. In 1913, Klee exhibited at Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm in Berlin and at the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon (first German autumn salon) in Berlin. Together with August Macke and Louis Moilliet, he travelled to Tunis and Kairouan. That same year, he became co-founder of the New Munich Secession. In 1919, he was signed by the Munich gallery owner Hans Goltzand and became a member of Munich’s visual arts council and its Aktionsausschuss Revolutionäre Künstler (action committee of revolutionary artists). In 1920, the gallery Goltz held the first large solo exhibition with more than 362 works by Klee.

Architecture with Window, author: Paul Klee, 1919. Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne / © free.
Architecture with Window, author: Paul Klee, 1919. Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne / © free.

In 1920, Walter Gropius appointed Klee to the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. He became the director of the bookbinding workshop in 1921, of the metal workshop in 1922 and of the glass painting workshop from 1922–1923 to 1925. From 1921 to 1924–1925 in Weimar, Klee taught classes in elemental design theory as part of the preliminary course. The first Klee exhibition was organised in New York in 1924. That same year, Klee and the artists Alexej Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger co-founded the group Die Blauen Vier (The Blue Four). One year later, the Vavin-Raspail gallery in Paris organised the first French exhibition of Klee’s work. In 1925, Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook was the second volume in the series of Bauhaus Books published by the Bauhaus.

The Saint of Inner Light, author: Paul Klee, 1921. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © free.
The Saint of Inner Light, author: Paul Klee, 1921. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © free.

From 1925 to 1930, he taught elemental design theory in the preliminary course at the Bauhaus Dessau. From 1926–1927 to 1930, he was the director of free sculptural and artistic design. From 1927, he was head of the free painting workshop and classes. From 1927 to 1929–1930, he taught the theory of design in the weaving workshop. Klee left the Bauhaus on 1st April 1931.

Paul Klee in his workshop in his Masters' House, Dessau, photo: Lucia Moholy, 1927. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
Paul Klee in his workshop in his Masters' House, Dessau, photo: Lucia Moholy, 1927. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

After ending his teaching activities at the Bauhaus in 1931, he received a professorship at the Düsseldorf art academy, a post which he held until 1933. After the NSDAP seized power and classed Klee’s work as 'degenerate art', he was immediately fired. He returned to Switzerland the same year. In 1937, the Kunsthalle Bern held a retrospective of Klee’s oeuvre. Klee died after a long illness in 1940 in Muralto near Locarno.

Fire in the Evening, author: Paul Klee, 1929. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Painting and Sculpture, Mr. and Mrs. Joachim Jean Aberbach Fund / © free.
Fire in the Evening, author: Paul Klee, 1929. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Painting and Sculpture, Mr. and Mrs. Joachim Jean Aberbach Fund / © free.

Literature:
Gerlach-Laxner, Uta & Ellen Schwinzer (2009): Lyonel Feininger – Paul Klee. Malerfreunde am Bauhaus, Ausstellungskatalog, Gustav-Lübcke-Museum Hamm, Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg, Bramsche.
Herzogenrath, Wulf (2003): Paul Klee – Lehrer am Bauhaus, Bremen.
Hopfengart, Christine (2010): Klee trifft Picasso, Zentrum Paul Klee Bern, Ostfildern.
Scholz, Dieter (2008): Das Universum Klee, Ostfildern.
Wagner, Christoph (2005): Das Bauhaus und die Esoterik. Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Bielefeld.