The Sadness and Glee That's Klee

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Sadness and Glee That's Klee


Byline: PHILIP HENSHER

The Private Klee

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh ***** The Edinburgh Festival is mostly concerned with performing arts, but in between Hedda Gabler in Welsh, Mongolian puppeteers and sixth-form stand-ups going on about Doctor Who, it's always well worth looking at the visual art in the city.

Usually, Edinburgh's array of excellent art galleries lays on a couple of interesting exhibitions; they always prove a welcome refuge from the madness prevailing elsewhere. But this is going to prove a particularly strong year, with at least three world-class shows.

Paul Klee is the most adorable of 20th Century artists. A bit of an oddity, he never really signed up to any of those great movements such as Cubism or Surrealism. Although he taught for many years at the Bauhaus, the crucible of high German modernism, he always remained aloof. The volume of work he produced before his early death in 1940 is colossal - I think around 10,000 paintings - but most of it is miniature in scale, delicate and playful in mood.

He loved the painting of children, and much of his best work resembles children's drawings, with their odd, witty shorthand notations of the world.

His figures often have big, balloon-like faces; his trees are often no more than feather dusters.

What always saves him from whimsy is his unceasing abundance. He had a truly childlike sense of fascination with materials: he always preferred to make his own brushes out of hair and bamboo, for instance.

On show in Edinburgh is the Burgi collection, the single most important private compilation of Klee's work.

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