Biography

Paul Klee 1879 - 1940

1879
Paul Klee is born in Münchenbuchsee near Bern on December 18, the second child of Hans Klee (1849–1940) and Ida Klee (1855–1921), née Frick.
His sister Mathilde (died 1953) was born three years earlier. His father is a music teacher at the Staatliches Lehrerseminar (state teachers’ seminar) in Hofwil, near Bern, his mother a trained singer.

1880
The family moves to Bern. The boy receives his first lessons in drawing and coloring from his grandmother, Anna Catharina Rosina Frick, née Riedtmann.

1886–1897
Klee attends primary school in Bern. He obtains his secondary education in the humanities program at the schoolhouse of what was later the Progymnasium (middle school) on Waisenhausplatz. He fills his schoolbooks and notebooks with caricatures, copies images from magazines and calendars, and draws objects from nature. For Klee, the final years of school are a trial: “I would have liked to run away before my eleventh-grade exams, but my parents stopped me.” The newspaper Die Wanze (The Bug), which he and two friends produced for the last year of middle school, causes a scandal at the school.
The resolve to become an artist is growing in Klee even during his school years. He spends a long time wondering whether to become a musician or a painter.

1898
Klee starts keeping a diary; the first entry is dated April 24. He finishes his secondary education with a Matura at the Städtische Literarschule (literary secondary school) in September. Just one month later, on October 13, he moves into an apartment in Munich, where he attends the private drawing school run by Heinrich Knirr. From the autumn of 1900, he also studies under Franz von Stuck at the Academy.

1899
Klee meets the pianist Lily Stumpf (1876–1946) at a musical soirée.

1901
He leaves von Stuck’s painting class. On October 22, Klee and the Bern sculptor Hermann Haller leave for a six-month period of study in Italy. Klee travels to Rome via Genoa and Livorno, and rents a room in the capital.
The overwhelming richness of Rome’s classical art plunges Klee into an artistic crisis.

1902
Klee becomes engaged to Lily Stumpf. He lives with his parents in Bern for the next four years, unable to secure an independent living from his art. His primary sources of income at this time are engagements as a violinist at the Bernische Musikgesellschaft (Bern Music Society). Klee regards this period at his parents’ home as an opportunity to find himself and to mature.

1905
Klee travels to Paris for two weeks with Hans Bloesch and Louis Moilliet, friends he has known since the days of his youth in Bern.

1906
Klee spends two weeks in Berlin during April. On September 15, he marries Lily Stumpf in Bern. Two weeks later, the couple moves to Munich.

1907
Felix Paul Klee born on November 30, the son and only child of Paul and Lily Klee.

1909
Felix becomes grievously ill in the spring; Paul Klee takes on the task of caring for the child. The family spends the summer holidays this year, as in the following years until 1915, in Bern and the surrounding area, particularly on Lake Thun. In November, Klee has the idea of illustrating Voltaire’s Candide. The drawings are not executed, however, until 1911.

1910
Klee has his first solo exhibition in July. Comprising fifty-six works, the exhibition starts at the Bern Kunstmuseum and moves on to the Kunsthaus in Zürich, the Kunsthandlung zum Hohen Haus in Winterthur, and the Kunsthalle in Basel.

1911
In February, Klee begins to compile a handwritten catalogue of his works. From this point until just before his death, he keeps a painstaking record of his artistic production.
In autumn, Louis Moilliet arranges for Klee to meet his fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky. Klee becomes familiar with the aims of the Blauer Reiter group. In the Swiss monthly Die Alpen, edited by his old friend Hans Bloesch, Klee publishes reviews of exhibitions and cultural events in Munich.

1912
Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky invite Klee to take part in the second Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider) exhibition at Hans Goltz’s bookshop in Munich. Seventeen of his works go on show. In April, he travels to Paris for a second time and visits the artists Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, and Karl Hofer in their studios.

1914
Klee travels to Tunisia at Easter with his artist friends August Macke and Louis Moilliet. The trip takes him via Marseille to Tunis, St. Germain, Hammamet, and Kairouan. After his return, Klee holds a joint exhibition with Marc Chagall in Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin; in October he presents his latest aquarelles, painted in Tunisia, within the framework of the Neue Münchner Sezession artists’ movement, of which he is a founding member. The assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire in Sarajevo on June 28 leads to the outbreak of the First World War. On September 26, 1914, Macke is killed in action near Perthe-les-Hurlus in Champagne.

1915
Klee has a chance meeting with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in Munich. He spends the summer in Bern; on his return journey to Munich, he goes to Goldach on Lake Constance to visit Kandinsky, who, as a Russian national, has had to leave Germany following the outbreak of war.

1916
On March 4, Klee’s friend Marc is killed at the front near Verdun. Klee is deeply grieved. On March 11, he is himself drafted into the German army as a soldier. He is first sent to the recruiting depot in Landshut. On July 20, he is attached to the second reserve infantry in Munich, then transferred in August to the maintenance company of the air corps in Schleissheim. From there he accompanies planes that are transported on the ground to Cologne, Brussels, and Nordholz in northern Germany.

1917
In January Klee is transferred to the Royal Bavarian Flying School V in Gersthofen where he is a clerk in the finance department. His joint exhibition with Georg Muche at the gallery Der Sturm in February is a commercial success.

1918
Klee is sent on leave until his demobilization in February 1919. He stops keeping a diary and never goes back to it. But in the years to follow, Klee does rework and edit his diaries, turning them into his autobiography.

1919
After being released from military service, Klee rents a studio in the Suresnes Schlösschen in Werneckstrasse in Munich. During the postwar Bavarian soviet republic he becomes a member of the Munich council of fine artists and of the activist committee of revolutionary artists. Oskar Schlemmer and Willi Baumeister try unsuccessfully to have Klee admitted to the Stuttgart Academy. On October 1, Klee signs a general agency contract with Hans Goltz, owner of the Galerie Neue Kunst-Hans Goltz in Munich.

1920
From May to June, Hans Goltz puts on the biggest Klee exhibition to date in his gallery, a retrospective with 362 works. On October 29, Walter Gropius calls Klee to the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. Klee’s first fundamental essay on the theory of art appears in Kasimir Edschmid’s anthology Schöpferische Konfession (Creative Confession). Leopold Zahn and Hans von Wedderkop publish the first monographs on Klee.

1921
In March, Wilhelm Hausenstein’s monograph Kairuan oder eine Geschichte vom Maler Klee und von der Kunst dieses Zeitalters is published—the most important book up to that point on Klee as an artist. On May 13, Klee commences his academic teaching career at the Bauhaus with a course in “practical composition.” As master of form, he is head of the workshop for book binding.

1922
Klee takes over the artistic direction of the gold-silver-copper smithy from Johannes Itten, then in the autumn exchanges it with Oskar Schlemmer for the latter’s workshop for glass painting.

1923
Klee’s essay “Wege des Naturstudiums” (Ways of Nature Study) appears in the publication on the weekly events in the Bauhaus.

1924
The first Klee exhibition in the United States takes place from January 7 to February 7, organized by Katherine S. Dreier of the Société Anonyme, New York. The artists’ group Blaue Vier (Blue Four) is founded on March 31 on the initiative of Emmy (Galka) Scheyer. The Blaue Vier’s works are exhibited primarily in the U.S. Along with Klee, the group is made up of Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, and Alexei Jawlensky. In September and October, Klee and his wife spend time in Italy, particularly in Sicily. On December 26, the leading members of the Bauhaus submit to enormous political pressure and declare the school in Weimar will be closed in April the following year.

1925
In March the council of Dessau decides to invite the Bauhaus to move to the town. Klee’s Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (Pedagogical Sketchbook) appears in October as the second volume of a series of Bauhaus books published by Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy. Klee cancels his agency contract with Hans Goltz and consequently increases his business contacts with Alfred Flechtheim, the owner of two galleries of the same name in Berlin and Düsseldorf. Klee’s first exhibition in France runs from October 21 to November 11 in the Paris Vavin-Raspail gallery. In November, some of his pictures are shown at the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris.

1926
Klee and his family move to Dessau on July 10. There they live with Wassily and Nina Kandinsky in one of the three duplexes built by Gropius for Bauhaus master craftsmen.

1927
Starting in April, Klee teaches the Bauhaus’s Free Workshop Painting, also known as the Free Painting class. From October, he teaches design for weavers. In the late summer, he travels to Porquerolles and Corsica.

1928
Klee publishes the essay “exakte versuche im bereich der kunst” (precise experiments in the field of art) in the magazine Bauhaus in February. Hannes Meyer becomes the new Bauhaus director. On December 17, Klee begins a four-week trip to Egypt, paid for by the Klee Society, a group of collectors founded by Braunschweig collector Otto Ralfs in 1925 with the aim of supporting Paul Klee.

1929
Klee and his wife spend their summer holidays in France and Spain. Klee begins negotiating with the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf on the prospect of obtaining a professorship. He is at the pinnacle of his success and is regarded as one of Germany’s most internationally respected artists. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Nationalgalerie, and the Galerie Alfred Flechtheim in Berlin organize major exhibitions for Klee’s fiftieth birthday.

1931
Klee takes up his professorship at the Düsseldorf Academy on July 1. He rents a room in Düsseldorf, but keeps his apartment in Dessau until April 1933. He and Lily go to Sicily in the summer.

1932
Following an application by the National Socialists, the Dessau council votes to close down the Bauhaus.

1933
The National Socialists take power across Germany in January. In mid-March, Klee’s apartment in Dessau is searched. On April 21, Klee is suspended from his position as a Professor at the Düsseldorf Academy; under the law for the restoration of the professional civil service, Klee is officially dismissed as of January 1, 1934. On October 24, he signs a sole agent contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the owner of the Paris Galerie Simon. On December 24, Klee emigrates to Switzerland—as his wife had done two days before—initially living in his parental home in Bern.
His son Felix Klee, a theatre and opera director, remains in Germany, together with his wife Euphrosine Klee-Grejowa.

1934
In January, Paul and Lily Klee move into a small apartment at Kollerweg 6, moving again on June 1 to a three-room apartment at Kistlerweg 6. The monograph Paul Klee: Handzeichnungen 1921–1930 by Will Grohmann appears in November. Its publisher is in Potsdam; the company is seized by the National Socialists in April the following year.

1935
In August Klee contracts bronchitis, which develops into pneumonia. In November he falls ill again; the illness is diagnosed as measles. Klee is largely confined to his bed.

1936
Continuing poor health means that Klee is forced to stop work for about half a year, and even after that he is unable to get much done. His output for the year is just twenty-five works—an all-time low.

1937
Klee’s health stabilizes, and he is once more able to work more intensely. On July 19, the exhibition “Degenerate Art” (Entartete Kunst) opens in Munich. In slightly reduced form, it runs until 1941 as a traveling exhibition and is shown in twelve other German and “Austrian” cities. It contains seventeen of Klee’s works. The National Socialists seize 102 of Klee’s works from public collections and sell most of them abroad.
Pablo Picasso visits Klee on November 27. In 1937, Klee produces 264 works—nearly as many as in the years before his illness.

1938
From this year on, gallery owner J. B. Neumann and two art dealers who had emigrated from Germany, Karl Nierendorf and Curt Valentin, organize regular Klee exhibitions in New York and other cities in the United States.

1939
In April Georges Braque twice visits Klee in Bern. On April 24, Klee applies for Swiss citizenship.With 1,253 registered works—most of them drawings—1939 is Klee’s most productive year ever.

1940
Klee’s father Hans dies on January 12. In May, Klee goes to the southern Swiss canton of Tessin for a period of convalescence. His state of health deteriorates suddenly in June. He dies on June 29 in the Clinica Sant’ Agnese in Locarno-Muralto, just days before he would have received Swiss citizenship. For a total of 33 years, a good half of his life, he lived in Bern.
Felix Klee renounces his claim to the inheritance of his father’s estate for the benefit of his mother. Rolf Bürgi, Bern collector and friend of the Klees, supports the widow as property administrator and advisor on the management of the estate.