Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
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Property from an Important European Collection
Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Stilleben mit der Distelblüte (recto); Ohne Titel (verso)

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Stilleben mit der Distelblüte (recto); Ohne Titel (verso)
signed, dated and numbered 'Klee 1919 104' (upper right, recto)
oil on board
19 ¼ x 17 1/8 in. (48.9 x 43.5 cm.)
Painted in 1919 (recto); painted circa 1915-1919 (verso)
Alfred Mayer, Munich (acquired from the artist, May 1919).
Private collection, Krefeld (by 1939).
Private collection, Düsseldorf; sale, Christie's, London, 26 March 1984, lot 30.
Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie., Geneva (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 8 January 2000.
P. Comte, Klee, Paris, 1989, pp. 90 and 254 (recto and verso illustrated in color, p. 91, figs. 115-116).
Paul Klee, His Life and Works, London, 1994, p. 44 (recto detail illustrated in color).
J. Anger, Modernism and the Gendering of Paul Klee, Ann Arbor, 1997, pp. 120 and 357.
J.-L. Ferrier, Paul Klee, Paris, 1998, p. 49 (recto illustrated in color, p. 48; with incorrect medium).
O. Okuda, "Versinkende Villen-aufsteigende Baracken. Paul Klee und die Bauhaus-Debatten über den Konstruktivismus" in Aufstieg und Fall der Moderne, exh. cat., Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar, 1999, p. 336 (verso illustrated, p. 336, fig. 135).
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné 1919-1922, Bern, 1999, vol. 3, p. 94, no. 2167 (recto and verso illustrated; recto illustrated again in color, p. 65).
J. Anger, Paul Klee and the Decorative in Modern Art, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 116, 224 and 272, note 60.
F. Graboleda, Cuerpo simbólico en Paul Klee, Madrid, 2007, pp. 222-225 (recto illustrated in color, p. 223).
F. Eggelhöfer, A Collector's Eye on Paul Klee, exh. cat., Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2008, p. 20.
Munich, Neue Münchener Secession. 5, June 1919, p. 19, no. 83.
Munich, Galerie J.B. Neumann und Günther Franke, Sommer-Ausstellung in München, Summer 1931, no. 39 (recto illustrated).
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm-Museum, Expressionismus in Malerei und Plastik, December 1946-January 1947, no. 66 (recto illustrated, pl. 66; titled Ohne Titel).
Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Von Nolde bis Klee. Deutsche Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, March 1947, no. 41 (titled Ohne Titel and with incorrect medium).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Monet to Matisse, Modern Masters from Swiss Private Collections, October 1988-January 1989, p. 72 (recto illustrated in color, p. 73; with incorrect support).
New York, Jan Krugier Gallery and Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie., Paul Klee, Traces of Memory, May 1998-February 1999, p. 88, no. 11 (recto and verso illustrated in color, pp. 22-23).

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Jessica Fertig
Jessica Fertig

Lot Essay

Created in 1919, Stilleben mit der Distelblüte emerged during a turbulent period of unrest in Paul Klee’s life, as he became swept up in the tumult of revolutionary politics following the defeat of the German Empire in the First World War. Demobilised from military service in early January 1919, Klee returned to a Munich that had been radically transformed by the declaration of an independent, socialist Republic in November of the previous year. As a leading member of the city’s avant-garde artistic community, he was quickly drawn into the debates surrounding the direction of cultural life in the new regime, and his forward-thinking approach to abstraction began to be championed by intellectuals and supporters of the Left. However, at the beginning of May 1919, Freikorps troops entered the city, ruthlessly suppressing the revolution and arresting scores of politicians, intellectuals and artists, including several of Klee’s friends. Deeply concerned by the developing situation, he decided to flee across the border to Switzerland in the first week of June.
It was during this period that Stilleben mit der Distelblüte was born, though the unusual double-sided composition bears little trace of the chaos and danger that threatened to engulf Klee at any moment. Botanical imagery dominates one side, taking centre stage in a fantastical still life that combines dislocated architectural features with delicate organic forms, as a series of potted plants illuminated by the light of a towering candle appear to float in a mysterious, undefined space. While Klee’s passion for plants had been fostered during his youth by his parent’s colourful and extensive garden, his move to Munich in 1906 had forced the artist to channel his horticultural interests into an ever-growing personal collection of indoor plants and succulents. Several appear in the current still life, their individual shapes and unique forms captured with an unerring eye, each blossom, leaf and bud delicately rendered in the artist’s distinctive, linear style. The carefully contained and cultivated potted plants offer an intriguing juxtaposition to the wilder botanical forms which appear to spring up in the gaps between the windows and other motifs along the edges of the composition, their presence emphasising the contrast between a nature that is highly controlled and domesticated, and one which is untameable and free.
On the reverse, a harmonious tapestry of seemingly abstract form and colour fills the board, a geometric patchwork of brilliantly coloured tones that draws inspiration from the crystalline light and dynamic landscapes the artist had discovered during a momentous sojourn to Tunisia in 1914. Indeed, towards the upper right hand corner of the composition a fluted cupola is just visible amongst the square and rectangles, its form recalling Klee’s studies of the domes of the Mosque of the Sabres, one of the largest and most spectacular monuments he saw during his time in Kairouan. Most importantly, the North African voyage had led Klee to a new understanding of colour, with the artist famously proclaiming that it now possessed him in such a way that it would never leave him, an epiphany which he felt finally transformed him into a true painter. In Ohne Titel, a series of architectural features are dissolved into a shimmering mosaic of pure colour, as windows and walls, domes and doorways are distilled down to their basic geometric shapes and then re-assembled in an intricate pattern of interlocking and overlapping colourful planes.

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