Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Property from a Private California Collection
Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz
signed, dated, numbered and titled 'Klee 1914. 85. d. grüne Kreuz' (on the artist's mount)
watercolor over pencil on paper laid down on card
Sheet size: 7 1/8 x 4 ½ in. (18 x 11.4 cm.)
Mount size: 13 x 9 ¾ in. (33 x 25 cm.)
Painted in 1914
Galerie Neue Kunst (Hans Goltz), Munich (by February 1921).
Private collection, Berkeley, California (circa 1945).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
E.-M. Triska, "Die Quadratbilder Paul Klees," Paul Klee, Das Werk der Jahre, 1919-1933, Gemälde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Köln, 1979, pp. 49 and 73.
B.S. Tower, Klee and Kandinsky in Munich and at the Bauhaus, Ann Arbor, 1981, p. 95.
C. Lenz, "Klee und Delaunay," Delaunay und Deutschland, exh. cat., Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1985, p. 231.
A.-M. Ehrmann-Schindlbeck, "Paul Klees Leihgaben an die Familie Grebe," Paul Klee in Jena 1924, exh. cat., Stadtmuseum Göhre, Jena, 1999, p. 123.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee, Catalogue raisonné, 1913-1918, Bonn, 2000, vol. 2, p. 168, no. 1185.
Munich, Galerie Neue Kunst (Hans Goltz), Paul Klee, May-June 1920, no. 67.
Kunst-Verein zu Jena, Paul Klee, July-August 1920, no. 38.

Lot Essay

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern has confirmed that this work is authentic and that it corresponds to no. 1185 currently listed in vol. 2 of the catalogue raisonné.

Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz is a complex and integrated semi-abstract watercolor-landscape from 1914 that reflects Klee's absorption of important avant-garde influences, and marks the full maturation in his art that took place in the aftermath of his journey to Tunisia in 1914.
Executed during the first year of the Great War, Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz is a work that, despite the dramatic progress in Klee's art during this period, was painted against an atmosphere of increasing gloom. The painting's crystalline break-up of form into a series of playful "magic squares" of "joyful color" were, for Klee, elements that reflected a desire to escape from the trauma of the times. As he confided to his diary at this time, “One deserts the realm of the here and now to transfer one's activity into a realm of the yonder where total affirmation is possible. Abstraction. The cool Romanticism of this style without pathos is unheard of. The more horrible this world (as today, for instance), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world brings forth an art of the here and now. Today is a transition from yesterday. In the great pit of forms lie broken fragments to some of which we still cling. They provide abstraction with its material” (Paul Klee, Diary Entry no. 951, 1915, F. Klee, ed., The Diaries of Paul Klee, London, 1964, p. 313).
With its Cubistic abstraction of the architectural forms of a medieval town, the painting is a work that illustrates how Klee fused the constructive principles of Cubism with the color theory of Robert Delaunay, to create a new, simple but articulate language representing Nature in abstract terms but without completely departing from the world of objective reality. One of a small group of works similarly titled from this year, here the color harmonies of Delaunay's Orphist circles have been translated into the simplicity and compactness of the architectural geometry to create a Cubist mosaic of colored form that shimmers with light and gaiety. This joyous quality is conveyed purely through Klee's remarkable sensitivity to color and light and reflects the astonishing developments he had made working alongside August Macke in Tunisia—where both artists had experimented with precisely the same break-up of form using a similar combination of Cubist and colorist principles.
As a harmonious tapestry of abstract form and color Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz can also be seen to correspond to the similar principles of tonal harmony and composition that characterized Klee's beloved Baroque music. Exploring the relationship between art and music, Klee often attempted to create pictorial "fugues" and famously expressed his desire to be able to “improvise freely on the keyboard of rows of watercolor cups” (Klee, Diary Entry no. 873, in ibid., p. 244).
Aquarell mit d. grünen kreuz was exhibited in what was considered Klee’s first survey exhibition held at the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz in Munich in 1920. Included in this landmark exhibition were 38 oil paintings, 112 watercolors, 179 drawings, 6 plaster sculptures and 27 prints. It was with this exhibition that Klee formalized his contract with Hans Goltz signed on 1 October 1919 and would last until 1925, providing the artist with financial stability and relieving him of the burden of organizing his own sales and exhibitions. Matthew Gale has written of this exhibition that this was “an extraordinary declaration of an artist’s public presence…It had the advantage for the artist of providing a detailed retrospective overview” (Paul Klee, Making Visible, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2013, pp. 46 and 48). While no photographs of the exhibition installation exist, this was the first show to emphasize the importance of the Tunisian works and therefore “established that experience as the watershed in his early career” (ibid.). Significantly, this exhibition was followed by the artist’s invitation to join the Bauhaus in the fall of 1920.

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