Klee left Germany in 1933, following Hitler's ascendancy to power, and settled in Bern, where he had grown up as a child. He produced a prolific body of work during the final years of his life, even while he battled the symptoms of scleroderma, a terminal skin disease. The artist was initially bedridden, but he learned to cope with his symptoms by sitting at a large drawing table instead of standing at an easel (fig. 1). He produced 25 works in 1936, and this quickly jumped to 264 in 1937, 489 in 1938, and over 1200 in 1939. Klee wrote to his son Felix, "Productivity is accelerating in range and at a highly accelerated tempo; I can no longer entirely keep up with these children of mine. They run away with me. There is a certain adaptation taking place, in that drawings predominate. Twelve hundred items in 1939 is really something of a record performance" (quoted in F. Klee, Paul Klee: His Life and Work in Documents, New York, 1962, p. 72).
The present work displays the succinct, graphic elements, simplified colors, and heavy black symbols that characterize the formal vocabulary of the artist's late style. Here, rudimentary graphic elements cut through a field of cream and light green paint, separated by the visible canvas on either side of these strong black lines, which organize the pictorial structure as a whole. Matthias Bärmann has suggested that the artist's stylistic transition results from the artist's failing health and his psychic state due to his persecution after Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and eventual exile to Bern, Switzerland: "Tracing the effects of scleroderma and its specific symptoms is complex, since these, apart from affecting his work on the physiological level, had psychological repercussions even down to the emergence of certain stylistic characteristics. His reduced, signlike repertoire gave Klee, who was aware of how little time remained to him, a spontaneous outlet for his enormous creative urge. Also the archaic traits of the 'bar-writing' characteristic especially of the very last paintings my have represented a productive reaction to his restricted mobility" (in Paul Klee: Fulfillment in the Late Work, Hannover, 2003, p. 15). Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who took over representation of Klee's work in the early 1930s, acquired the present painting in 1946, four years before the publication of his monograph on Klee. The Parisian dealer had it and other late works in mind when he concluded in this text, "Even the style of his last works -- wide strokes had taken the place of the earlier scrawly ones--was forced upon him by his illness, which stiffened his arm. But it was just this late production which added a note of grandeur, not hitherto discernable, to Klee's work. Thus the hero triumphs over evil and turns it to his own again" (in Paul Klee, New York, 1950, p.14).
The title of the present work, which is possibly dedicated to the memory of an unidentified friend with the initials "WI," confers an associative meaning onto this linear construction and reflects Klee's organization of his graphic vocabulary into more descriptive figural compositions. The thick lines and arcs that sweep through the picture plane articulate a figure whose head rests on his hand, assuming the classic posture of melancholia famously depicted by Albrecht Drer. This mournful and contemplative figure reflects his response to the increasingly discouraging news coming from Germany. From his exile in Bern he could only look on in dismay when, in 1937, fifteen of his works were included in the infamous exhibition of "Degenerate Art," and more than a hundred of his works were removed from German museums in a massive purge of modern art. Despite all these difficulties, Klee continued his daily routine and worked as hard as ever. Felix Klee has written:
"How in addition to this intensified work my father still found time to mount the pictures, frame them, letter them, mount the watercolors and the innumerable drawings on cardboard and keep account of them all with scrupulous exactitude in his oeuvre catalogue, look after his favorite cat Bimbo, read books, receive visits, listen to music, go on small trips and even write letters, remains a mystery to me. The last three years of his life must be compared to the eruption of a volcano" (in op. cit., p. 73).
(fig. 1) Photo of Paul Klee painting in his studio in Bern, 1939.BARCODE 24409568