Rhythmische Baumlandschaft is one of a small group of colorful landscapes created by Paul Klee during the opening months of 1920, in which he explored the unseen patterns, tensions and rhythms that underpin the natural world. Dividing the picture plane into a series of carefully delineated horizontal bands, Klee pictorially suggests an underlying sense of union and harmony that courses through the universe, tying all aspects of the landscape together with an assured regularity. In the present composition, the artist trains his eye on a grove of trees, their forms reduced to a simplified geometric language of rectangles and circles and dotted across the composition in an irregular, highly intuitive manner. Varying in color and size, they appear as individual specimens with their own unique character, and yet remain part of the unified collective of the wooded landscape.
Throughout his life, Klee displayed a particular affinity for nature and its many forms—he proved extremely sensitive to the timbre of various landscapes, often documenting his response to different terrains in his diary, and assembling a diverse collection of botanical materials which served as visual aides in his studies on form. He believed that by reaching into nature the artist was able to absorb impressions of the world, which could then be channeled into a subjective artistic vision that expressed the inherent truths of the universe. Comparing the source of an artist’s creative impulse to the growth of a tree, Klee explained: “From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Thus he stands as the trunk of the tree. Battered and stirred by the strength of the flow, he molds his vision into his work” (quoted in E-G. Güse, ed., Paul Klee: Dialogue with Nature, Munich, 1991, p. 26). However, as with the tree, the resulting image could not be an exact reflection of its source material. Rather, the “crown” of the tree must diverge from the pattern of its roots and develop its own identity, allowing a space for the artist’s creativity to blossom in a new, subjective manner.
Set against a subtly variegated field of soft pastel hues, Rhythmische Baumlandschaft captures a sense of the essential rhythms that drive the eternal cycle of growth in these trees. In many ways, the repetitive patterns and simplified graphic elements appear to echo the visual form of musical scores. Having grown up in a highly musical family, Klee was a skilled violinist with a deep understanding of the complexities of musical construction, composition and theory. These topics had an important impact on his approach to art making, with the artist finding parallels between the principals of musical composition and painterly creation, even going so far as to use a diagrammatic rendering of Bach’s Sonata no. 6 in G major as a teaching aide during his time at the Bauhaus. In Rhythmische Baumlandschaft he uses subtle shifts in weight, character, scale, and space between each of the elements in the scene to generate a dynamic visual pattern in much the same way a composer would play with the tempo or cadence of a score. Indeed, Will Grohmann has written: “In the same way that one reads musical scores and hears them with the inner ear, one can read Klee’s pictures and see them with the inner eye – not arbitrarily, but in accordance with the “directions” he gives the eye” (Paul Klee, London, 1951, p. 162).
Within weeks of its completion, Rhythmische Baumlandschaft was included in an important survey of Klee’s work, held at the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz in Munich, from May to June 1920. Featuring over 350 works, from oil paintings and sculptures, to drawings, watercolors and prints, the exhibition amounted to something of a mini-retrospective, offering a comprehensive overview of the artist’s dynamic and varied oeuvre. The show was organized as part of the arrangement Klee had reached with the dealer Hans Goltz in October of the previous year, an agreement which not only granted the artist a new level of financial security, but also relieved him of the laborious business and administrative aspects of art making. Explaining the benefits of the contract in a letter to his friend Alfred Kubin dated February 1920, Klee proclaimed: “No exhibition worries any more. Hardly any business correspondence any more!” (quoted in M. Gale, et al., The EY Exhibition—Paul Klee: Making Visible, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2013, p. 47). The Galerie Neue Kunst exhibition proved to be a watershed moment for Klee’s reputation, marking him out as a bold new artistic voice in post-war Germany.