Paul Klee (1878-1940)
Paul Klee (1878-1940)


Paul Klee (1878-1940)
signed ‘Klee’ (center left); dated, numbered and titled ‘1924 216 Dünenfriedhof’ (on the artist's mount)
watercolor and pen and India ink on paper laid down on painted card
Sheet size: 18 ¼ x 11 ¼ in. (46.6 x 28.5 cm.)
Mount size: 20 ¼ x 12 ¾ in. (51 x 32.4 cm.)
Executed in 1924
Alois Jakob Schardt, Halle (by 1929).
Anna Schardt (by descent from the above, 1955).
Saidenberg Gallery, New York (1958).
Clarence McKenzie Lewis, Jr., Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. (circa 1959); sale, Christie’s, New York, 6 May 2008, lot 31.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, Paris, 1929, p. 18, no. 29 (illustrated).
A. Schardt, Das Übersinnliche bei Paul Klee, exh. cat., Museum der Gegenwart, Hamburg, 1930, p. 37.
J. Glaesemer, Paul Klee, Die farbigen Werke im Kunstmuseum Bern, Gemälde, farbige Blätter, Hinterglasbilder und Plastiken, Bern, 1976, p. 341.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee, Catalogue raisonné, Bern, 2000, vol. 4, p. 251, no. 3588 (illustrated).
Bildungsanstalt Hellerau, Sammlung moderner Kunst, 1924-1925.
New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Paul Klee, An Exhibition in Honor of the Sixtieth Birthday of the Artist, February 1940, no. 2.
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Nineteenth International Exhibition of Water Colors, April-May 1940, no. 117.

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Morgan Osthimer
Morgan Osthimer

Lot Essay

Klee had been teaching at the Bauhaus since 1921, and his newfound financial security, and vacation time, allowed him the opportunity for the first time since the First World War to travel abroad. In September 1924 the artist journeyed to Italy with his wife Lily. Klee had visited the country in April 1914 while returning from a trip to Tunisia, and memories of the hilly landscape, stacked houses, and sun-drenched architecture enticed him to return there a decade later. The couple spent six weeks abroad--they departed from Bern to Genoa, moved on to Naples, and finally arrived at the East coast of Sicily, where they spent two weeks before returning home via Rome and Milan. The titles of Klee's watercolors trace his Sicilian itinerary; he traveled first to Catania, and then to their main destination, the beach at Mazzaró and the town of Taormina. Since the nineteenth century, Taormina had been a famous tourist draw, as it afforded stunning views, especially the panorama of Aetna that can seen from the town's famous Greek amphitheater. The trip made a strong impression on Klee and his wife Lily, who wrote to Emmy (Galka) Scheyer, on 14 October that "For Klee, Sicily was an important artistic experience" (U. Gerlach-Laxner and E. Schwinzer, eds., Paul Klee, Reisen in den Süden, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1997, p. 59).

The present watercolor, one of roughly two dozen that Klee executed on Sicilian subjects during 1924, represents a synthesis of nature and history that the artist equated with Sicily itself. The work depicts a cemetery in the dunes that is bathed in a luminous blue by the full moon that hangs low on the horizon. The peak of Aetna appears as a small white triangle in the background, a cipher of the natural landscape that is balanced by a jagged peak that juts into the foreground and supports a black cross. The scene evokes the mingling of the region's classical and Christian past, set against the unchanging backdrop of the ancient volcano and the surrounding scenery.

These images forge a metaphorical connection between an inner, spiritual realm and the outer, natural world. The art historian Will Grohmann, who was a close friend of the painter, recalled that Klee "was always fascinated by the landscape's historical associations, and had a feeling for how regional history and geography come together" (quoted in ibid., p. 53). Klee later articulated this vision of classical history as expressed in the Italian landscape when he briefly stopped at Syracuse in September 1928 while traveling to Egypt: "The landscape is naturally 'classical,'" he stated, "And, as the home of Aeschylus, Archimedes, and the great tyrants, it is also seasoned with history. This historical inspiration stands the test of time, and together with the masterpiece of nature called Aetna, becomes the fruition of classical Sicily" (quoted in ibid.).

Klee's memories of Sicily remained a vital part of his art long after his return to the Bauhaus and continued to appear in his work until 1931. When the Dessau Bauhaus approached closure as the result of local cultural politics in December 1924, Klee wrote to Lily in Munich, "I experience nothing, don't even want to. I carry the mountains and sun of Sicily within me. Everything else is boring" (Briefe, vol. II, p. 997).

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