An avid traveller, throughout his life Klee was profoundly affected by the many trips he made abroad. From Tunisia and Italy, to Corsica and France, Klee revelled in the varying landscapes and terrains of these exotic countries, absorbing the changing colours and light and conveying these in his painting. At the end of 1928, Klee had voyaged by boat to Egypt, a trip that the artist’s friend and biographer, Will Grohmann described as ‘the greatest single source of inspiration in his later years’ (W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, London, 1954, p. 76). Here, Klee was captivated by the ancient culture of the country that simultaneously felt full of life and vitality, and he conveyed his impressions of the landscape in his work in a variety of ways over the following years. From this point onwards, Klee simplified his compositions, freeing space from Western pictorial traditions as his images became increasingly abstract, filled with lighter tones than he had used before.
Executed a few years after Klee’s trip to Egypt, with its subtle hues and simplified shapes, Versandete Siedelung (Silted up Settlement) demonstrates the monumental and magical effect that his visit to Egypt had on his art. This exquisite, large composition, arranged in parallel horizontal lines, interrupted by primitive, geometric shapes, suggests a direct link to the agricultural pattern of the Nile Valley, that is also evoked in the title. The colour is laid on very subtly in a monochromatic earth tone, which renders a sense of fertility, and at the same time the independent creative power of the painter himself.
In this sombre, minimalist composition, one can find many elements of Klee’s vast imagery, such as the influence of primitive cultures which had always fascinated him throughout his production, as throwbacks to the ‘childhood of man’. It is by looking at works such as Versandete Siedelung that one immediately understands why Klee is widely considered to be the father of Abstract painting, having inspired a generation of American painters, without ever setting foot in the United States. But it is arguable that influences of Klee, quoted as saying ‘drawing is simply taking a line for a walk’ can also be found in the purist thoughts of artists such as Piero Manzoni and Agnes Martin.
He was systematic in his teaching and in the way he numbered his pictures too, but his art is never systematic, quite the opposite, Klee found an extensive, imaginative territory that was entirely his own. Each picture seems like a new discovery, in which he allows abstract shapes to take on meanings in a kind of metamorphosis. Klee is like a shaman, at once childlike and profound; his art is like magic, crossing from this world to another, seamlessly in and out abstraction.
Klee was also a natural draftsman, and was constantly developing unusual, experimental techniques, such as reverse glass paintings, oil transfer drawings, colour paste, or spray technique. The intricate, detailed surface of Versandete Siedelung was obtained by scratching the artist’s signature ‘colour paste’ off the surface of the sheet with a large wooden needle. Executed in 1935, the present work precedes by only a few months the moment when Klee was diagnosed, later that year, with scleroderma, a degenerative illness that immediately limited his activity. In fact, in the later years, his productivity actually increased, but he mainly worked on large-size pictures.
The present work, acquired by Professor and prominent collector Karl Julius Anselmino in 1955, has been on loan to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich, from at least 1979, until 2017, and has remained for over 60 years in private hands.