Lot 54: Paul Klee (1879-1940)

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November 5, 2008, 7:00 PM EST
New York, NY, US
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Description: Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Kiefer
oil and sand on board
20¾ x 20 in. (52.7 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1932
Exhibited: Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Lebendige deutsche kunst, December 1932-January 1933, no. 60.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 1935, no. 62 (titled Einsame Tanne).
Basel, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 1935, no. 52.
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Paul Klee, January-February 1936, no. 9.
San Francisco Musem of Art, Paul Klee, 1941.
Berlin and Düsseldorf, Galerie Flechtheim, 1941.
New York, Nierendorf Gallery,
Klee, 1941.
Lisbon, Fundcao Calouste Gulbenkian, Servico des eposicoes et museografia, Paul Klee, 1941, no. 124.
The Philadelphia Art Alliance, Paul Klee: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, March-April 1944, no. 27.
New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Gestation--Formation, 1944, no. 13.
Cologne, Kunthalle, Paul Klee 1919-1953, 1971, no. 338.
Lissabon, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Paul Klee 1879-1940, October-November 1972, no. 124 (illustratred in color).
Cologne, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, Das Werk der Jahre 1919-1933: Gemälde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik, April-June 1979, no. 338.
Literature: J. Spiller, 'Paul klee Notebooks,' in Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1934, p. 179.
K. Nierendorf, Paul Klee: Paintings and Watercolors 1913-1939, New York, 1941 (illustrated, pl. 43; titled The Pine).
J. Spiller, Paul Klee. Unendliche Naturgeschichte. Prinzipielle Ordnung der bildnerischen Mittel verbunden mit Naturstudium, und konstruktive Kompositionswege. Form--und Gestaltungslehre, Basel and Stuttgart, 1970 (illustrated).
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné 1931-1933, Bern, 2002, p. 171, no. 5724 (illustrated).
Provenance: Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Dusseldorf (by 1932).
J.B. Neumann, New York (by 1936).
Karl Nierendorf Gallery, New York (by 1941).
William H. Weintraub, New York; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 May 1970, lot 46.
Jorge de Brito, Lisbon (acquired at the above sale).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 December 1974, lot 64.
Matthiesen Fine Arts, Ltd., London (by 1978).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 1990, lot 58A.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Notes: The Collection of Alice Lawrence

Kiefer belongs to the series of subtlety colored paintings that Paul Klee executed after revisiting Sicily in the summer of 1931, an event that catalyzed the two-year revival of his second and ultimate series in his mosaic style. The short, tesserae-like brushstrokes seen here are characteristic of the compositions of this period and reflect the profound impact that Klee's memories of Sicily--including the Cathedral of Cefalu, the church of Santa Maria and the royal palaces in Palermo, and especially the 12th c. Byzantine-style mosaic decorations in the large cathedral complex in Monreale--had on his work.

Klee first encountered southern Italy in April of 1914 while returning from a trip to Tunisia, first sailing along the Sicilian coast and then visiting Palermo, Naples, Rome, and Milan. The painter's memories of this voyage prompted him to vacation to Sicily in the summer of 1924, where he recorded the local landscape and its inhabitants in more than two-dozen watercolors. Commenting on the gradual evolution of this technique within Klee's oeuvre, Josef Helfenstein has stated, "Basing his technique on his experience in North Africa in 1914, Klee aimed to turn the geometry of the pattern of contrasting colored squares into the actual structure of a painting, thus replacing the 'composition' of figurative works. Hence, the underlying theme of these square paintings is the geometrical arrangement of colors, which in Klee's opinion did not conform with the rational laws alone but with the artist's 'inner needs', his personal intuition. Developing his ideas from the square paintings of the 1920s, Klee progressively reduced he size of the individual squares, culminating in a screen-like system of colored dots in which the paint was applied with small stamps made of heads of nails" (in Paul Klee Foundation, ed., op. cit., p. 10).

Although the works that followed these trips often include Mediterranean subjects and employ high-keyed colors, the compositions, like the present painting and the other works that resulted from his trip in 1931, are ultimately recollections that Klee embellished in his imagination and enriched with other pictorial interests. Klee has focused on a natural object, in this case a majestically spreading pine tree, and transformed its observed appearance into a simple but accretionary complex network of minutely dotted mosaic patterns, imbuing the image with a hieratic and almost mystical significance. He constructs the evergreen seen here by erecting a linear scaffold whose core he fills with blocks of solid brown and green and expands into the background with rows of dots that undoubtedly emulate mosaic stones but also reflect the divisionist legacy of Paul Signac, the Neo-Impressionist paintings of Robert Delaunay, an artist whom Klee deeply admired, and Georges Seurat, whose pointillist canvases became better known in Europe shortly before World War I.

The present work is also notable for Klee's addition of sand to its ground, an experimental practice that the artist proudly described to his wife in a letter from March of 1932: "At the moment I'm less concerned with completing pictures than with trying out various new grounds...Probably I shall tie that up with so-called pointillism. For the present I'm not doing so. My grounds at present tend to have a great deal of sand in them, but serviceably worked out--in my 'laboratory' for painting technique" (quoted in R. and C. Winston, trans., F. Klee, Paul Klee, New York, 1962, p.68).


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