Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The mysteriously titled POR belongs to the series of brilliantly colored paintings Klee executed after revisiting Sicily during the summer of 1931, an event that catalyzed the revival of a divisionist, mosaic style in his application of color, resulting in a second and ultimate extended series in this manner that lasted into 1932 and culminated in the magnum opus Ad Parnassum of that year (Klee Foundation, no. 5970; Kunstmuseum Bern). The short, tessera-like brushstrokes from which Klee constructed his compositions during this period reflect the profound impact of the 12th century mosaics, mostly the work of Byzantine craftsmen in the employ of the Norman kings who ruled Sicily, which Klee had studied in the Cathedral of Cefalù, the church of Santa Maria and the royal palaces in Palermo, and at the large ecclesiastical complex in the nearby commune of Monreale.
Klee first visited southern Italy in April 1914 while returning from his eye-opening trip to Tunisia, where he had famously written, “Color and I are one. I am a painter” (F. Klee, ed., The Diaries of Paul Klee, Berkeley, 1964, p. 297). He stopped at Palermo before traveling on to Naples, Rome, and Milan. He returned to Sicily in the summer of 1924, where he depicted the local landscape in more than two dozen watercolors (Paul Klee Foundation, vol. 4, nos. 3589-3665). A two-month stay in Egypt during the winter of 1928-1929 and a holiday in northern Italy the following year appear to have whetted Klee’s desire to return to Sicily once again.
POR is an evocation of a favorite subject in Klee’s iconography, the fantastic garden, here illuminated in the glowing colors of the Mediterranean summer. Standing out amid a series of linear elements which represent a sun and its reflection, together with various landscape contours, the rose blossom on a tall stem perhaps symbolizes Palermo, which the ancient Phoenician merchants who founded the port called Ziz, “flower,” and the city’s patron saint, Rosalia, a girl from a 12th century Norman noble family who devoted herself to Christ by living in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo. Klee’s three-letter title is perhaps his personal abbreviated notation for the various signifiers embedded in this picture.
The mosaic technique–also described as divisionist or pointillist–in Klee’s method of composition may be traced back to the influence which the translucent color planes of Delaunay’s pre-First World War Fenêtres series had exercised on his work before 1920, in conjunction with the artist’s North African experience. Klee was dividing his time during 1931-1933 between Dessau, where the Bauhaus would soon close, and Düsseldorf, where he had recently taken a position at the Academy. “Having a studio in each city, he pursued distinct styles of painting. In Düsseldorf he devoted his energies to pointillist works,” Joseph Helfenstein has explained. “Klee aimed to turn the geometry of the pattern of contrasting coloured squares into the actual structure of a painting, replacing the ‘composition’ of figurative works... Developing his ideas from the square [Bauhaus] paintings of the 1920s, Klee progressively reduced the 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 the heads of nails” (Paul Klee Foundation, ed., op. cit., 2002, vol. 6, p. 10).
Klee took pleasure in the many repetitive actions this diligent method required; these particulated fields of color possess the virtues of being both intimately decorative and uncompromisingly abstract. The use of such scintillating pictorial grounds proved to be an effective stage on which Klee could both contrast and integrate his subjects, which he increasingly expressed during the 1930s as emphatically graphic linear signs, heralding the dramatic synthesis of his late, great valedictory period.