CreditsDirector: Georgia van der Rohe Writer/Narration: Will Grohmann
Catalog number # 518
30 minutes Color
Age Range: 14 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
Filmscape Adobe Flash Required. See more
48hr Streaming Access
Loading the player...
Klee was born in 1879, near Bern, Switzerland, into a family of musicians. After college he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He lived there with his wife and son until he was appointed Professor at the Bauhaus. In 1933 he returned to Bern, where he died in 1940 at the age of 60. We have kept biographical details to a minimum. Klee thought little of biography. He once said: "I want to know where a good painting is and why it is good".
The film begins with Klee's breakthrough to color during a journey to Tunisia. He wrote: "The significance of this happy hour: I and color are one. I am a painter".
The watercolors from Kairuan reveal a carpet-like pattern. Still there are anecdotal elements: Houses, windows, trees. Here the famous red and white cupolas at Kairuan, the town of the hundred mosques.
"Matter and dream, and an added constituent is my ego".
The "Landscape with a Camel" is also reminiscent of Tunisia, despite the round trees, like so many musical notes.
Here the circles become the blossoms of a "Feather, Plant". "Spiral, Flower." It seems to rotate, to unfold from the center outward. The action of its growth is transformed into motion.
Arrows intensify the whirling wind of the roses, enhance the blasting force of the Firewind.
Again and again Klee uses the black arrow as a symbol of space and time, as a signal of earthly and cosmic activity.
"Fugue in Red"
A number of romantic-atmospheric paintings follow. Klee never started from an idea, but rather from creative means, which he developed himself.
This "Arid Cool Garden" appears like a withered desert region. Klee's signature like a saxifrage on the rock. In contrast: "Garden After the Thunderstorm."
"Yellow Birds" Klee also might have thought of birds' voices, perhaps in a tropical garden.
"Villa R." Klee uses letters together with a path, house, plants. A silvery moon was to be Klee's lifelong companion. Stairs and pavilions, a labyrinth. The moon and the stars above a dark sun.
This "Little Sunday House" seems childlike, yet it is really sophisticated. Klee spoke of discipline and economy as the ultimate objectives.
"Square Under Construction." Again with letters. Streets, scaffoldings, buildings in the process of erection. The view from above, the houses from the front, like a child's drawing.
Klee as a schoolboy. He is already played the violin in the city orchestra. Later, in Munich, he joined the "Blue-Rider-Group", whose dominating personality was Kandinsky. In 1920 Walter Gropius invited Klee to the Bauhaus.
And at the Bauhaus Klee met Kandinsky again. As well as Geininger and Oskar Schlemmer whose Bauhaus stage and "Triadic Ballet" interested him very much.
Klee's creative work influenced his teaching activity. It intensified his power of construction. His lectures became fundamental to the future teaching of harmony in art. Now combined artistic intuition with minute technical precision and succeeded to give the most common of objects the human touch.
The period of constructive paintings begins. "Altimeter" Horizontal stripes of different breadth and density, interrupted by vertical insertions. Each seemingly accidental detail is set in strict order, giving a compact composition to the whole.
"Rhythmic, Freer, Sterner" is like a chessboard translated into action. Klee: "We construct and construct and yet intuition remains a good thing". This town is an architectural composition. Perhaps a memory of Italy.
These structures which resemble flying machines are visual in effect. One thinks of paper dragons or bi-planes, which Klee had seen in an aircraft factory nearby.
The perforated surface creates transparency and lightness. In "Dispute" surfaces overlap without the edges being connected.
Movement and rhythm produce a sequence of paintings inspired by the theatre.
"Triangles on the Scene"
Abstraj: Ballet. Influenced by Schlemrner's "Triadic Ballet". Various dancing positions can be recognized. Painting transformed into rhythm and music.
A sequence of humorous satirical drawings: "Staging". Out of triangles and rectangles a "Family Promenade".
"The Boulevard of Abnormals"
The small urchins seem to know why they run after the top hats, who have one body and six legs - whereas the dog has six legs and two heads.
The arrows are a parable of human tragedy and the humor is a humor with tears.
Klee says of the arrows, "The further the voyage, the worse it is, never to arrive, where movement is endless".
One eye that sees, another that feels. "The Actor".
Klee's drawings are often called infantile. But Klee said: "There is great wisdom in the fact that children can do it too." The childlike effect however is achieved by simplification and reduction. He said: "If you want to say a lot, say it with a minimum of means".
The magic of eyes.
Heads developed from the circle
A branded face
"The Prince of Hades" His hard emerald eyes express hypnotic power. A square, another on its point, a line, a mouth, the whole: "Monsieur Pearl-Pig" An example of splatter painting, often used by children.
And then the "Head with German Moustache", slightly grotesque. But the eyes are Klee's eyes, as in his self-portraits. He wrote: "My earthly eye is too far seeing and sees through the fairest things"!
Klee was stillness personified. Despite his modesty he radiated authority. He appeared almost monastic but suffered when warmth and eroticism were missing from his work. "Many will not perceive the truth of my mirror. They should consider that I do not reflect the surface but have to penetrate into the interior". Klee did "not start from a preconception or an abstract form but from the basic formal elements. From these he developed figurations, heads, landscapes.
There were about a dozen easels in his studio. He worked first on one painting, then on another. And there was a moment when Klee could say: "Now the painting is looking at me".
"The artist knows all but only afterwards".
Horizontal stripes are intersected by diagonal lines. The title: "Fruitful Valley of the Nile" No concrete allusion to the old empire of the Pharaohs and yet suggestive of the country and its history.
Klee writes: "I paint a view from the vast mountains of the King's valley across the country. Polyphony of landscape and atmosphere". A pointillist technique.
Klee calls it "Divisionistic". Interplay of color, light and space, built up from below. "Ad Parnassum" is the principal picture of the series.
The Holy Mountain, the sun at dawn in the midst of dotted seeds. The portal of a temple - clusters of dots on colored, differentiated backgrounds.
With cool, nocturnal colors a "North Room". Each detail is recognizable and yet again it is not. Another picture might be accompanied by Klee's poem: "I wish to hold your head in my hands and never may it turn away from me, for grief would drive my strength to destruction".
A different technique: free lines criss-crossing each other. The carved surfaces join together to form subjective figures: "A Shred of Community" or a lady, whom Klee calls "Poison". A relative: the worldly demon with the bird like face. "Mediation". Without eyes it would be abstract. Klee was never abstract. He was always searching for the "how", not the "degree" of abstraction.
Overlapping forms, dominating eyes: "The Sphinx".
The crisscross lines are most distinct in "Sailing Ships". All is sail and speed.
The moon. Lines zigzagging from above. The title is "Lightning"
The forerunner of the later pastels: "Little Chamber in Venice". Nocturnal phosphorescent colors. Two eyes. Do they look out or in? Quite human in spirit this figure looks out of itself into a garden, Klee would have called this "Abstract Memories".
Klee was Professor at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, when in 1933 he was dismissed as a degenerate artist. He emigrated to Bern, where he died in 1940. His friends and most Collectors of his work lived in Germany, so it was not easy for him to leave. Here he had his friends and best collectors. But how wise he was to leave. Art was in danger, defamed, burnt. From the distance Klee saw it with dismay.
Didn't Klee feel rather lonely in Bern, where he had no friends like Kandinsky and Schlemmer? Yes, indeed, he did. But it was a great joy for him, when one day Picasso paid him a visit. They had never met before, although Klee considered Picasso to be the greatest painter of his day.
What impression did Klee make on Picasso? Well as he was leaving Picasso said to Klee: "You are the greatest painter on the small scale, I on the large". And later, when asked about his visit he only said: "Pascal. Napoleon".
Klee's creative achievement comprised 9000 works. Their themes and titles reveal his universality. He was not only a painter but a musician, poet, naturalist and philosopher as well.
In the center a figure with a meditative eye divides the picture from left to right, into past and present or accomplishment and intention. Hieroglyphic signs. One of the huge late paintings, using the black lines which dominate the last three years of Klee's work.
Klee doubted that he would ever become affirmative, and yet many of his late paintings are. In "Heroic Bow Strokes" the movement of the bow is almost palpable.
With the technique of heavy black lines he aimed at transposing music into the figurative. The whole is a homage to the violinist Adolf Busch, a friend of Klee's.
Surprising how the same theme looks in a second version. The bow strokes become the promontories of a coastline. .
Instead of a violin bridge and notes, starfish and wind wheel. At the right the "Grey One".
An island in the Mediterranean, like springtime. The outlines form a coast, a jutting head, Homeric myth. On the horizon a steamer. "Flora upon the Rock". Vegetation on a high mountain chain. Roots, plants, rich soil. A well thought out pattern on a sunlit ground. In the center a nine-petaled flower.
Klee writes "0 blossom of fire, at night you restore the sun for me and shine secretly into my human heart".
"Blossoms of the Dawn", painted in the year of his death. But the picture is rather cheerful and the blossoms look almost like ballet dancers. A park, spring and hope. Here the black strokes have colored edges and thus obtain new lightness. In spite of Klee's illness, the tone of this painting is serene.
Although he was ill he never complained, he worked. Perhaps he still wanted to plumb ultimate possibilities. In a state of euphoria he painted his own requiem, as Mozart had composted his. Klee painted the horror of the night, the passage over Hades, the angels and death.
The decline of his body released superhuman strength. His life and art reached their final destination at the same time.
In a letter to me he said "It is no mere chance that I now walk the path of tragedy. Many of my paintings reflect this and say: "The time has come."
Klee not only appeals to connoisseurs of art but also to people interested in music, poetry, philosophy. Klee said: "Art should also bring happiness." And I think he achieved this goal.
"Wild Spirits" A real dance of life and death. Not cheerful, full of anguish.
"After the Deed of Violence"
"Catastrophe of the Sphinx"
"Even Children Have to Suffer"
"Does The World Break Apart?"
"Outburst of Fear"
"Lovesong Without Hope"
"The Body Too Has A Face"
"The Spirit of A Ghost"
"The Passage over Hades Begins"
"In The Realm of Death"
"The Perilous One"
A Skeleton Behind Bars
The Evil Part of the Whole
Death And Fire
Klee's last picture, a still life. On the tables jugs and vases, in the vases verdant and withered blossoms. Straw flowers scattered on the table, like flowers on a grave. Against the nocturnal darkness once more the moon.
A white rectangle as signature: Jacob wrestles with the angel. One of the choir of angels, which ends this film.
"Open, Your Portal To The Depth, Dungeon In the Ground, Set Me Free!"
"One day I shall lie nowhere, near an angel. Anywhere".
"Up here we draw the first circles of immortality".
"All, all I have loved. Now I am a cool star."
"Here and now I am not at all comprehensible, for I live just as well with the dead as with the unborn. Somewhat nearer to the heart of creation than usual, - but still far from being near enough".
Fully interactive transcript included with film purchase.
Remember to explore
included with your purchase.
Click image to activate Filmscape