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Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Der Dampfer im Hafen
signed 'Klee' (lower left), dated, titled and numbered '1925 U7 der Dampfer im Hafen' (on the artist's mount, lower centre)
watercolour and oil transfer on paper laid down on the artist's mount
image: 12.5/8 x 18.7/8in. (32 x 48cm.)
artist's mount: 19 x 25in. (50 x 64.7cm.)
Executed in 1925
Richard Doetsch-Benziger, Basel (his stamp verso)
Anon. Sale, Sotheby's New York, 16 April 1980, Lot 219
Aquired at the above sale by the father of the present owners
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Sammlung Richard Doetsch-Benziger, June-July 1956, no. 168 (illustrated)
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Paintings of the Bauhaus, March-April 1962, no. 115

Lot Essay

The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Paul Klee Stiftung, Berne, who will include it in the forthcoming Paul Klee catalogue raisonn currently in preparation.

"Like Kandinsky, Klee valued the "primitive," and especially the art of children. He envied their polymorphous freedom to create signs, and respected their innocence and directness. 'Do not laugh, reader! Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in their having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us ....' In his desire to paint 'as though newborn, knowing absolutely nothing about Europe,' Klee was a complete European. His work ferreted around in innumerable crannies of culture, bringing back small trophies and emblems from botany, astronomy, physics, and psychology. Music had a special influence on him. He believed that eighteenth-century counterpoint (his favourite form) could be translated quite directly into gradations of colour and value, repetitions and changes of motif; his compositions of stacked forms, fanned out like decks of cards or colour swatches, are attempts to freeze time in a static composition, to give visual motifs the "unfolding" quality of aural ones - and this sense of rhythmic disclosure, repetition, and blossoming transferred itself, quite naturally, to Klee's images of plants and flowers. He was the complete Romantic, hearing the Weltgeist in every puff of wind, reverent before nature but careful to stylize it. Klee's assumptions were unabashedly transcendentalist. 'Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth,' he wrote in 1920, 'things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other, latent realities ...'
(R. Hughes, The Shock of the New, London 1991)

The physical creative process plays an important role throughout Klee's work and is brought to the fore in the present work by his use of the technique of "oil transfer". By drawing an image upon one surface and using weight to press it through an "oiled" paper onto another sheet, Klee is playfully using his materials and working method to amplify the aesthetic effect of his subject.

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