Paul Klee

1939

David Zwirner is pleased to present Paul Klee: 1939, the gallery’s inaugural exhibition of Paul Klee’s (1879–1940) work since announcing its exclusive collaboration with the Klee Family. On view at 537 West 20th Street, New York, the exhibition focuses on Klee’s art from 1939, the year before he passed away, which marked one of the artist’s most prolific periods.

Toward the end of 1933, in response to the suppression of avant-garde art practices by the newly empowered Nazi party, Klee left Germany, where he had primarily lived since 1906, and returned to his native city of Bern, Switzerland, residing there for the remainder of his life. From 1935 until he passed away, in 1940, Klee continually struggled with illness, which at times impacted his ability to work. Yet, in 1939, against the backdrop of immense sociopolitical turmoil and the outbreak of war, Klee worked with a vigor and inventiveness that rivaled even the most productive periods from his youth. The works on view illustrate how Klee responded to his personal difficulties and the broader social realities of the time through imagery that is at turns political, solemn, playful, humorous, and poetic. Ranging in subject matter, the works all testify to Klee’s restless drive to experiment with his forms and materials, which include adhesive, grease, oil, chalk, and watercolor, among others, resulting in surfaces that are not only visually striking, but also highly tactile and original. The novelty and ingenuity of Klee’s late works informed the art of the generation of artists that emerged after World War II, and they continue to hold relevance and allure for artists and viewers alike today.

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Image: Paul Klee, Ohne Titel (Gitter und Schlangenlinien um "T") (Untitled [Grids and Wavy Lines Around "T"), c. 1939 (detail)

Dates
September 10October 26, 2019
Opening reception
Tuesday, September 10, 6–8 PM
Artist

Watch a clip from a walkthrough of Paul Klee: 1939 by the artist Richard Tuttle. “In these late works,” Tuttle explains, “what I find remarkable is, you have this drop from a light to a dark. But then, after years and years, where that dark coalesces and forms hardnesses—hard lines—in this very very late period he figured out in some remarkable way how to turn around and not let that harden, but to turn it back to the light.”

A pen and watercolor work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled Ungeheuer in Bereitschaft (Monsters in readiness), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Ungeheuer in Bereitschaft (Monsters in readiness), 1939
Pen and watercolor on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (20.8 x 29.4 cm) Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 19 5/8 inches (35 x 50 cm) Framed: 15 7/8 x 21 3/4 inches (40.3 x 55.2 cm)
A photograph of Paul Klee in his atelier, Bern, in summer 1939.

Paul Klee in his atelier, Bern, summer 1939. Photo by Felix Klee. Courtesy Zentrum Paul Klee. © Klee-Nachlassverwaltung, Hinterkappelen

“Art is like Creation: it holds good on the last day as on the first.” —The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898–1918

The works Paul Klee produced in 1939, the year before he died, after a long illness, demonstrate an energy and ingenuity that belie the great difficulties he was facing. His tireless experimentation with forms and materials has proved influential for generations of artists, from Anni Albers to Etel Adnan, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Tuttle, who will introduce this exhibition at David Zwirner. As the critic Clement Greenberg wrote in 1957, “Almost everybody, whether aware or not, was learning from Klee.”

A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled donnerkeil! (Thunderbolt!), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

donnerkeil! (Thunderbolt!), 1939
Grease crayon on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 16 1/2 x 11 5/8 inches (41.9 x 29.6 cm) Cardboard: 27 3/8 x 19 1/8 inches (69.5 x 48.5 cm) Framed: 29 3/8 x 21 1/4 inches (74.6 x 54 cm)
Gelatin silver prints by Josef Albers mounted on cardboard, titled Klee, Dessau XI. 29, dated 1929.

Josef Albers

Klee, Dessau XI. 29, 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted on cardboard
11 1/2 x 16 1/8 inches (29.2 x 41 cm) Framed: 15 3/8 x 20 1/8 inches (64.5 x 51.1 cm)

Born in Münchenbuchsee, near Bern, Switzerland, in 1879, Klee was unrivaled in his creative output, and is considered one of the truly defining artists of the twentieth century. An artist, teacher, writer, and thinker, Klee explored and expanded the terrain of avant-garde art through work that ranges from stunning colorist grids to evocative graphic works. From 1921 to 1931, he taught at the Bauhaus (including in the weaving workshop, where Anni Albers was among his students); there, Klee’s ideas established him as one of the institution’s foremost instructors.

 

During the 1930s, important museum exhibitions brought Klee’s work to wider audiences. An exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1930, marked the museum’s first solo show by a living European artist, and in 1935, Klee had retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern and the Kunsthalle Basel.

Politically and personally, however, the 1930s signaled the beginning of difficult times in Klee’s life. In 1933, the year the Bauhaus closed due to pressure from the Nazi party. Amid extreme sociopolitical unrest, Klee left Germany to join his wife in Bern, residing there for the remainder of his life. From 1935 until his death, in 1940, despite worsening illness, Klee worked with renewed energy. 

 


“All of a sudden,” his son, Felix Klee, recalls in an interview, “he created an amazingly large number of works in a completely new style. More than 1,200 in the single year of 1939!… This late work … in my opinion … is his most important.”

 

Image below: Paul Klee, im liegen (Lying down), 1939

A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled Regen=und Sturmangriff (Rain and storm attack), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Regen=und Sturmangriff (Rain and storm attack), 1939
Tempera and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (20.8 x 29.5 cm) Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 19 1/4 inches (35 x 49 cm) Framed: 15 7/78 x 21 3/8 inches (38.3 x 54.3 cm)

“Productivity is accelerating in a range and at a highly accelerated tempo; I can no longer entirely keep up with these children of mine. They run away with me.” —Paul Klee in a letter to his son, Felix, 1939

A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled Kämpft mit sich selber (Struggles with himself), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Kämpft mit sich selber (Struggles with himself), 1939
Watercolor, grease crayon, and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 5/8 x 8 1/8 inches (29.5 x 20.6 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm) Framed: 21 3/4 x 15 7/8 inches (55.2 x 40.3 cm)

“Klee managed the seemingly impossible. Out of the physical and emotional suffering of his exile he took his art through a final metamorphosis, achieved one last pinnacle. Like only Matisse and Picasso among modern artists, Klee created a late work of singular rank.” —Matthias Bärmann, Erfüllung im Spätwerk



Klee’s late works speak of a harrowing personal situation, in which terminal illness signaled the imminent end of his life and caused him great physical pain, as well as the social and political tumult that had exiled him from Germany to Switzerland. With often heavy or constraining lines he conjured troubled figures and fraught visualizations, giving them titles such as die Schlange kommt (The snake comes) and Maske "nach dem Verlust" (Mask "after the loss").



Through these works and their titles, Bärmann writes, “Klee carried on a solitary dialogue with himself, questioning, commenting, grieving and deriding.”

In his late period, Klee’s unique aesthetic world—one in which, as he famously said, “art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible”—evolved and developed, tracing the artist’s outlook and sensations not unlike a diary. The moods conveyed, Bärmann notes, include “irony, comedy, caricature, and self-encouragement, but also skepticism, sarcasm, melancholy, and grief.”

 



Like Klee’s earlier work, these intimate compositions on paper “always tell a story within a small space, like a poem,” as his grandson Alexander Klee has observed. Klee used pencil, colored paste, tempera, chalk, adhesive, grease, oil, and watercolor, among other means, to create both graphic arrangements and more dreamlike or metaphorical figures and forms that often reflect the strain of working in his final years. Color—which Klee had previously used sparingly—became stronger and was used to invest figurative shapes with greater force, as seen here in a rare painting from 1939.

A mixed media work on canvas by Paul Klee, titled Ohne Titel (Gitter und Schlangenlinien um "T") (Untitled [Grids and Wavy Lines Around "T"), circa 1939.

Paul Klee

Ohne Titel (Gitter und Schlangenlinien um ""T"") (Untitled [Grids and Wavy Lines Around ""T""), c. 1939
Oil and colored paste on canvas
22 1/4 x 9 7/8 inches (56.5 x 25 cm)
A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled die Schlange kommt (The snake comes), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

die Schlange kommt (The snake comes), 1939
Colored paste on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 5/8 x 8 1/4 inches (29.5 x 20.8 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/8 x 13 3/4 inches (46 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 1/4 x 15 7/8 inches (51.4 x 40.3 cm)
A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled reifende Trennung (Maturing separation), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

reifende Trennung (Maturing separation), 1939
Pen on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 inches (20.9 x 29.7 cm) Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches (35 x 46.8 cm) Framed: 15 7/8 x 20 1/2 inches (40.3 x 52.1 cm)
A work on paper on cardboard by Paul Klee, titled Maske LAPUL (Mask: Lapul), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Maske LAPUL (Mask: Lapul), 1939
Watercolor and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 9 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches (24.5 x 21.5 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches (47 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 5/8 x 15 7/8 inches (52.4 x 40.3 cm)

In his final years, though illness had changed his appearance, and despite the fervent pace at which he worked, Felix Klee recalls that his father “remained gentle and serene in manner.”

“I have never seen a man who had such creative quiet. It radiated from him as from the sun,” the painter Jankel Adler said of watching Klee work. “His face was that of a man who knows about day and night, sky and sea and air…. Our language is too little to say these things.… Klee, when beginning a picture, had the excitement of a Columbus moving to the discovery of a new continent.… Klee set out to discover a new land.”

As his own epitaph, Klee wrote:

I cannot be grasped in the here and now
For I live just as well with the dead
As with the unborn
Somewhat closer to the heart
Of creation than usual
But far from close enough.

Image below: Paul Klee, Schleusen (Locks), 1938

Taking in some one hundred works from throughout Klee’s career, Paul Klee: The Abstract Dimension examines a previously little-explored aspect of his oeuvre. Among the nearly ten thousand works Klee created in the course of his career are some of the most pioneering and influential examples of modernist abstraction—works that continue to resonate today. The works are grouped in this study under four themes: nature, architecture, painting, and graphic characters.

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Paul Klee

es wurmt ihn (It Annoys Him), 1938
Colored paste on paper on cardboard

Sheet: 7 x 11 inches (17.8 x 28 cm)  Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 18 3/4 inches (35 x 47.5 cm)  Framed: 16 x 20 3/4 x inches (40.6 x 52.7 cm)  Signed, titled, dated, and numbered recto  Paul Klee Work No. 1934, 72 (M 12)

A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Niedrig (Lowly), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Niedrig (Lowly), 1939
Grease crayon on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches (30 x 45 cm) Cardboard: 19 1/4 x 26 3/4 inches (48.8 x 68 cm) Framed: 21 1/4 x 28 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (54 x 73.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1073 (FG 13)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Zwei Dürstende (Two thirsty people), dated 1940.

Paul Klee

Zwei Dürstende (Two thirsty people), 1940
Colored paste and pen on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 17 3/8 x 17 3/8 inches (44 x 44 cm)
Cardboard: 18 7/8 x 22 1/2 inches (48 x 57 cm)
Framed: 21 1/8 x 24 7/8 inches (53.7 x 63.2 cm)
Paul Klee Work No. 1940, 268 (L 8)
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Paul Klee

Maske ""nach dem Verlust"" (Mask: After the Loss), 1938
Colored paste on paper on cardboard

Sheet: 10 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches (26.8 x 20.9 cm)  Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 7/8 inches (50 x 35.2 cm)  Framed: 21 3/4 x 16 x 1 1/2 inches (55.2 x 40.6 cm)  Signed, titled, dated, and numbered recto  Paul Klee Work No. 1938, 212 (N 12)

A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Ungeheuer in Bereitschaft (Monsters in readiness), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Ungeheuer in Bereitschaft (Monsters in readiness), 1939
Pen and watercolor on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (20.8 x 29.4 cm) Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 19 5/8 inches (35 x 50 cm) Framed: 15 7/8 x 21 3/4 x 1 1/2 inches (40.3 x 55.2 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 75 (J 15)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled es will nicht hinein (Just can't get it), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

es will nicht hinein (Just can't get it), 1939
Chalk on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 10 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches (27 x 21.5 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm) Framed: 21 7/8 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (55.6 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm ) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 86 (K 6)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Nordischer Künstler (Nordic artist), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Nordischer Künstler (Nordic artist), 1939
Colored paste and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 10 5/8 x 8 3/8 inches 26.9 x 21.4 cm Cardboard: 18 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches 47.3 x 35 cm Framed: 20 5/8 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches 52.4 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 673 (JJ 13)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Maske LAPUL (Mask: Lapul), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Maske LAPUL (Mask: Lapul), 1939
Watercolor and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 9 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches (24.5 x 21.5 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches (47 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 5/8 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (52.4 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 737 (MM 17)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Tiere unter mir! (Animals beneath me!), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Tiere unter mir! (Animals beneath me!), 1939
Pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 10 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches (27 x 21.5 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm) Framed: 21 7/8 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (55.6 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 739 (MM 19)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Besessen (Possessed), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Besessen (Possessed), 1939
Watercolor, tempera, and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 10 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches (27 x 21.5 cm) Cardboard: 17 7/8 x 13 3/4 inches (45.5 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 1/8 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (51.1 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 910 (XX 10)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Regen=und Sturmangriff (Rain and storm attack), dated 1939.

Regen=und Sturmangriff (Rain and storm attack), 1939
Tempera and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (20.8 x 29.5 cm) Cardboard: 13 3/4 x 19 1/4 inches (35 x 49 cm) Framed: 15 7/78 x 21 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches (38.3 x 54.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 934 (YY 14)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled "wehrte sich und stach" ("Resisted and pricked"), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

wehrte sich und stach"" (""Resisted and pricked""), 1939
Grease crayon on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 5/8 x 8 1/4 inches (29.6 x 20.8 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm) Framed: 21 3/4 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (55.2 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1041 (EF 1)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled die Schlange kommt (The snake comes), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

die Schlange kommt (The snake comes), 1939
Colored paste on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 5/8 x 8 1/4 inches (29.5 x 20.8 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/8 x 13 3/4 inches (46 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 1/4 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (51.4 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1127 (JK 7)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled wilder Mann (Wild man), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

wilder Mann (Wild man), 1939
Colored paste, crayon, and watercolor on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 1/2 x 8 1/8 inches
(29.3 x 20.7 cm)
Cardboard: 17 7/8 x 13 3/4 inches
(45.5 x 35 cm)
Framed: 20 1/4 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches
(51.4 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm)
Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1192 (MN 12)
A mixed media work on canvas by Paul Klee, titled Ohne Titel (Gitter und Schlangenlinien um "T") (Untitled [Grids and Wavy Lines Around "T"), circa 1939.

Paul Klee

Ohne Titel (Gitter und Schlangenlinien um ""T"") (Untitled [Grids and Wavy Lines Around ""T""), c. 1939
Oil and colored paste on canvas
22 1/4 x 9 7/8 inches (56.5 x 25 cm)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Schleusen (Locks), dated 1938.

Paul Klee

Schleusen (Locks), 1938
Grease crayon on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 3 5/8 x 15 3/8 inches (9.2 x 38.9 cm)
Cardboard: 19 1/8 x 27 1/2 inches (48.5 x 70 cm)
Framed: 21 1/4 x 29 1/2 inches (54 x 74.9 cm)
Paul Klee Work No. 1938, 186 (M 6)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled reconstruierte Scherben (Reconstructed shards), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

reconstruierte Scherben (Reconstructed shards), 1939
Colored paste and watercolor on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 x 6 7/8-6 3/4 inches (28 x 17.5/17.1 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/4 x 13 3/4 inches (46.5 x 35 cm) Framed: 22 3/4 x 16 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (57.8 x 42.9 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 101 (L 1)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled im liegen (Lying down), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

im liegen (Lying down), 1939
Grease crayon and pencil on primed paper on cardboard
Sheet: 8 1/8-8 1/2 x 18 7/8 inches (20.7/21.5 x 48 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 26 5/8 inches (50 x 67.5 cm) Framed: 21 5/8 x 28 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (54.9 x 72.4 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1010 (CD 10)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Zelt und Wimpel in der Landschaft (Tent and pennant in the landscape), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Zelt und Wimpel in der Landschaft (Tent and pennant in the landscape), 1939
Colored paste on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 12 1/8 x 17 5/8 inches (30.7 x 44.9 cm) Cardboard: 19 1/4 x 26 7/8 inches (48.8 x 68.2 cm) Framed: 21 1/2 x 29 x 1 1/2 inches (54.6 x 73.7 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1097 (GH 17)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled sieht zurück (Looks back), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

sieht zurück (Looks back), 1939
Watercolor, grease crayon, ink, and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 1/2 x 8 1/8 inches (29.3 x 20.6 cm) Cardboard: 18 1/8 x 13 3/4 inches (46 x 35 cm) Framed: 20 1/4 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (51.4 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1187 (MN 7)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Kämpft mit sich selber (Struggles with himself), dated 1939.

Paul Klee

Kämpft mit sich selber (Struggles with himself), 1939
Watercolor, grease crayon, and pencil on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 11 5/8 x 8 1/8 inches (29.5 x 20.6 cm) Cardboard: 19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm) Framed: 21 3/4 x 15 7/8 x 1 1/2 inches (55.2 x 40.3 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1939, 1189 (MN 9)
A drawing by Paul Klee, titled Ereignis im Park (Event in the park), dated 1938.

Paul Klee

Ereignis im Park (Event in the park), 1938
Colored paste on paper on cardboard
Sheet: 13 5/8-14 1/8 x 21-20 3/4 inches (34.6/35.9 x 53.3/52.7 cm) Cardboard: 18 3/8 x 26 3/8-26 1/4 inches (46.7 x 67/66.7 cm) Framed: 24 1/4 x 31 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches (61.6 x 79.7 x 3.8 cm) Paul Klee Work No. 1938, 408 (Y 8)

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