Klee, Paul (1879-1940) By Bourneuf, Annie
Paul Klee was one of the most important and inventive figures in the development of Modernism in the visual arts. The Swiss-German artist's unusual oeuvre drew on the work of other modernist painters while also challenging foundational tenets of Modernism in painting.
The son of a music teacher, Klee was a talented violinist. As an adolescent growing up in Berne, Switzerland, Klee was interested not only in the visual arts but also in poetry and music. After graduating from the Berne Gymnasium in 1898, Klee moved to Munich to study art at the academy.
In 1906, Klee married the pianist Lily Stumpf; their only child was born the next year. Relatively isolated from avant-garde art, Klee undertook a prolonged artistic self-education, attempting to break down pictorial art into its elements—line, tone, color—and master them one by one.
In 1911 and 1912, Klee became friendly with the artists of Der Blaue Reiter, including Vassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and August Macke, who accompanied Klee on a trip to Tunisia in 1914. Through these new connections, Klee became familiar with a broad spectrum of modernist art. In 1916, Klee, a German citizen, was drafted; he served as a clerk in Bavaria, far from the front. During the war, the Berlin dealer Herwarth Walden energetically promoted Klee's work. By 1920, many in the German avant-garde acknowledged Klee as a major artist, and Walter Gropius invited him to join the faculty of the newly established Bauhaus.