Genius to Madness; 'In a Frenzy, in His Last Full Year, 1939, Paul Klee Created 1,253 Works; Even in His Dying Days He Was at His Easel'

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

Genius to Madness; 'In a Frenzy, in His Last Full Year, 1939, Paul Klee Created 1,253 Works; Even in His Dying Days He Was at His Easel'


Delaunay not only as a casual artist, but as a violinist, a music critic and nursemaid to his baby Felix while his wife kept him from penury by giving piano lessons - "Laundry is the only household task I haven't tried."

In its way this decade of indecision was as formative for him as Delaunay and Kairouan were influential. The self-imposed dilemma of the choice between the abstract and the figurative was deliberately unresolved, the graphic caricaturist lurking still, allusions, visual puns and doubleentendres his instruments. These 10 years were the seedbed of his Surrealism, his fantasy, his selfmockery and the mischief that released him from any obligation to be conventionally and consistently serious; it liberated him from the Italian Futurism, German Expressionism and Parisian Cubism that could so easily have become his ball and chain; it allowed him to recognise that abstract art was only one of many possibilities and that he need not jettison the rich resource of his ability to represent and caricature.

KLEE'S students at the Bauhaus in the Twenties adored him, as well they might with such a gospel as: "To paint well is simply to put the right colour in the right place." Like Humpty-Dumpty and the word, he believed what he said when he said it, but felt free to revise and revoke at will his notes, diaries and dicta, eliminating what even he recognised as "superfluous nonsense". It must be argued that the records of his teaching suggest that it was more formative for him than for his students - another 10-year seedbed in which the abstract flourished with the figurative and the intuitive with the deliberate, in which he could approach the psychic automatism of the Surrealists or the Constructivism of Constructivists, manage a watercolour with the softest edges possible or define a patch of wash with the hard edge of a mapping pen. He could plan a composition with the utmost care, or whimsically point his pencil at the paper, make a dot and turn the dot into a line - "A line comes into being, so to speak, it goes for a walk, aimlessly, for the sake of the walk." With such caprice he has enchanted us for 60 years and more.

In 1924, in a famous lecture, Klee made a stray reference to "the infantilism of my work". He had indeed taken an obsessive interest in the drawings of the infant Felix, born in 1907, and in the morbid preoccupations of lunatics with a visual bent - he knew well the Prinzhorn Collection of such material, formed between 1918 and 1921 - and the remark may have been more than an aside. It may have been a response to the psychiatrist Professor Wilhelm Weygandt who in 1921, in the Berlin weekly, Die Woche, had equated Klee's watercolours with the drawings of the insane - the first step on the road to the notorious Degenerate Art exhibition mounted by the Nazis in 1937, in which 17 works by Klee were included (another 102 were sequestered from German museums). …

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