PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
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PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)

Rotbärtiger Kopf

PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
Rotbärtiger Kopf
dated, numbered, titled and inscribed 'SCL X 1929 K.7. rotbärtiger Kopf' (on the artist's mount)
watercolor on paper laid down on card
Sheet size: 18 3/8 x 12 7/8 in. (46.7 x 32.7 cm.)
Mount size: 25 7/8 x 18 7/8 in. (65.7 x 48 cm.)
Executed in 1929
Lily Klee, Bern (wife of the artist).
Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern (acquired from the above, 1946).
Werner Allenbach, Bern (1953).
Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Paris (acquired from the above, 1956).
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above, September 1957).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, Paris, 1929, p. 58 (illustrated).
J.A. Thwaites, "Paul Klee and the Object," Parnassus, vol. 9, no. 6, November 1937, pp. 9-11.
C. Giedion-Welcker, Paul Klee, New York, 1952, p. 104, no. 94 (illustrated).
C. Giedion-Welcker, Paul Klee in Selbstzeugnissen und Bildokumenten, Reinbek, 1961, pp. 130 and 155.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee, Catalogue raisonné, 1927-1930, Bonn, 2001, vol. 5, p. 273, no. 4773 (illustrated).
W. Kersten, O. Okuda and M. Kakinuma, Paul Klee: Sonderklasse, Unverkäuflich, exh. cat., Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2014, no. 193, p. 376 (illustrated).
Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Paul Klee, October-November 1929, no. 129.
Dresden, Galerie Neue Kunst Fides, Paul Klee zum 50. Geburtstage: Aquarelle aus den Jahren 1920-1929, February-March 1930, no. 83.
Kunsthalle Bern, Paul Klee, February-March 1935, no. 143.
Kunstverein Winterthur and Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Das Graphische Kabinett, Paul Klee, May-August 1935, p. 17, no. 149.

Lot Essay

In 1901, at the age of 21, Klee noted in his diary: "thoughts about the art of portraiture. Some will not recognize the truthfulness of my mirror. Let them remember that I am not here to reflect the surface (this can be done by the photographic plate), but must penetrate inside. My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones" (The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918, Berkeley, 1964, pp. 47-48).
Painted twenty-eight years later, Rotbärtiger Kopf realizes this youthful ambition. Rather than a naturalistic depiction aimed at rendering the physical likeness of its sitter, Klee has painted a non-objective allusive picture which leaves us wondering: whose is this Red-Bearded Head? The heavy mane, large nose and serene expression might remind us of a lion at the rest. Others may see melancholy in this head’s pensive eyes, and others yet maybe something mystical or entirely different. As Will Grohmann observes: "Where Klee reduces the drama to a single character, he simplifies the picture to an enigmatic minimum" (Paul Klee, London, 1969, p. 199). It is for the viewer to decipher who, what, why, because although we all see the physical world with the same human eyes, how we interpret its meaning is entirely subjective, and it is Klee’s own interpretation of this man’s "true self" which he brings to life and challenges us to experience.
Klee's deliberate use of the paper's texture (perhaps sitting in for the model’s wrinkled skin or ruffled soul), the soft transitions in the watercolor’s organic hues and the rhythmic application of red brushstrokes to suggest the beard’s hairs all increase the mystical quality of this powerful picture.
By 1929, when Rotbärtiger Kopf was executed, Klee had arguably arrived at the peak of his artistic career. He enjoyed international status as a master of contemporary art and was a prominent representative of the Bauhaus, where he had taught since 1920, first at Weimar and now 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 celebrated at the Bauhaus with an enormous package of gifts dropped by parachute from an airplane. That same year, the first major monograph on Klee was published, written by Will Grohmann. According to Grohmann, "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).
In 1931, two years after this work was executed, Klee took up a professorship at the Düsseldorf Academy. In 1933 however, the Nazis identified him as a degenerate artist and singled him out as a “Galician Jew” in a newspaper issue, after which the Gestapo searched his home and had him fired from his new post. Although his popularity and success outside Germany was as strong as ever, with successive shows in Paris and London that year, the artist and his family were forced to leave Germany and emigrate to Switzerland in late 1933.
Klee considered this work to be sonderklasse or special class, which is why he kept it in his personal collection until his death. Executed at the height of his career, a few years before his expulsion from Germany and the declaration of his terminal illness, this watercolor is a perfect example of Klee's work at his most confident and creative.

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