Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Siedelung im Hügelland

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Siedelung im Hügelland
signed 'Klee' (lower right)
watercolor and pen and ink on linen laid down on the artist's mount
10 x 16½ in. (25.5 x 42 cm.)
Executed in 1930
Richard Doetsch-Benziger, Basel (until 1958).
Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Campione d'Italia.
Private collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
M. Bosshard-Rebmann, Paul Klee: Sammlung Richard Doetsch-Benziger, Basel, Basel, 1953, no. 60.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee, Catalogue raisonné, Bern, 2001, vol. 5, p. 479, no. 5247 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Basel, Moderne deutsche Malerei aus Privatbesitz, October 1933, no. 102.
Basel, Galerie d'Art Moderne, Marie-Suzanne Feigel, Paul Klee: Tafelbilder und Aquarelle aus Privatbesitz, September-October 1949, no. 49.
Kunstmuseum Basel, Sammlung Richard Doetsch-Benziger: Malerei, Zeichnung und Plastik des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, June-July 1956, p. 58, no. 207 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

By 1930, when he painted Siedelung im Hügelland, Klee had arrived at the peak of his career. He enjoyed international status as a master of contemporary art and was a renowned representative of the Bauhaus, where he had taught since 1920, first at Weimar and then at Dessau. On the occasion of his fiftieth birthday in December 1929, the Berlin gallerist Alfred Flechtheim gave him a large retrospective, which then traveled to The Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Cahiers d'Art in Paris commissioned a massive volume of reproductions of his oeuvre; and he was fêted at the Bauhaus with an enormous package of gifts dropped by parachute from an airplane. Will Grohmann has written, "Klee was now one of the few artists in a position to decide the future course of art. Every exhibition of his was eagerly anticipated, and critics measured him by international standards" (Paul Klee, New York, 1954, p. 251).

Throughout his years at Dessau, travel provided Klee with a much needed respite both from his academic and social obligations at the Bauhaus and from the mounting political and ideological tensions there. Each summer, he and his wife Lily traveled south, sojourning at various seaside resorts on the Côte d'Azur and the Italian Riviera, and on Sicily, Corsica, and Elba. Extremely sensitive to the timbre of different landscapes, Klee filled sketchbooks during his travels with quickly executed drawings, amassing a reservoir of motifs, forms, color effects, and sensual impressions that served him as a wellspring of ideas for years to come. Christina Thomson has written, "The fact that during his time at the Bauhaus Klee claimed the study of nature to be sine qua non for an artist was largely due to his experiences with the natural world during his travels. Foreign landscapes with their beaches, seas, rivers, and cliffs inspired him to fully engage with nature, to feel, observe, and analyze it at leisure. Freeing him to discover new paths and possibilities, the unity that he experienced with nature in these places opened his eyes to the origins and laws of creation, whose deepest secrets he attempted to fathom throughout his life by means of his art" (The Klee Universe, exh. cat., Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2008, p. 149).

Siedelung im Hügelland was painted in mid-1930, either during Klee's summer travels or shortly after his return to Dessau. That year, he vacationed at Viareggio on the Ligurian coast and in the Engadine, a long valley nestled in the Swiss Alps. It was the latter site that almost surely inspired the rolling hills and mountainous peaks of the present watercolor, which constitute the graphic underpinning of the composition. These undulating natural forms are superimposed with a series of overlapping, rectilinear planes, which evoke both the rational austerity of Bauhaus architecture and the conventions of the modernist grid. The delicate, transparent color of the rectangular planes--the greens and blues of the Alpine landscape, awash in gentle morning light--counteracts their architectonic form, blurring the boundary between the built and the grown, the constructive and the organic. The interpenetration of these pastel-hued screens generates a spatial effect, but it is a mobile and changeable one, not the clear recessive schema of the linear mountains and hills. Grohmann has explained, "The problem of space...occupied Klee much more insistently in 1929. After many experiments Klee wrote in April 1930 of his hope that 'what I have achieved in the three-dimensional realm' would become lastingly fruitful for his work. He was not alluding to perspective or illusionistic space but to the 'flow' of space; 'the goal is inward, the problem mysterious,' he said" (op. cit., p. 281).

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