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

Stadt der Kirchen

PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
Stadt der Kirchen
signed 'Klee' (upper left); dated, titled and numbered '1918.99 Stadt der Kirchen' (on the artist's mount)
watercolor and pen and India ink over pencil on paper laid down on card
Sheet size: 8 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (15.5 x 20.7 cm.)
Mount size: 12 ¼ x 8 7/8 in. (31.2 x 22.5 cm.)
Executed in 1918
Galerie Goltz, Munich (acquired from the artist, February 1920).
Private collection.
James Gilvarry, New York (by 1955); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 14 November 1984, lot 407.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
"Investing in Art—The Latest Boom" in U.S. News & World Report, January 1964, p. 69 (illustrated).
S.L. Henry, "Paul Klee's Pictorial Mechanics from Physics to the Picture Plane" in International Annual Art Journal, 1989, vol. 47, p. 154.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, 1913-1918, Bern, 2000, vol. 2, p. 491, no. 1946 (illustrated).
Zurich, Kunstsalon Wolfsberg, Zweite Herbstausstellung, September-October 1919, no. 98.
Wellesley College, Farnsworth Museum, 1955.
Baltimore Museum of Art and Richmond, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Klee: Private Collection James Gilvarry, June-October 1960.
Champaign, University of Illinois, Krannert Art Museum, Paintings, Drawings and Prints by Paul Klee from the James Gilvarry Collection, September-October 1964, no. 8 (illustrated).
Indianapolis, Herron Museum of Art, Paul Klee, January 1966, no. 6.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Paul Klee: A Retrospective Exhibition, February-April 1967, p. 38, no. 31 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Basel, Paul Klee, June-August 1967, no. 34.
Santa Barbara, University of California, The Art Gallery, Paul Klee: Oils, Watercolors, Gouaches, Drawings and Prints from the James Gilvarry Collection, October-November 1967, p. 25, no. 8 (illustrated in color, p. 29).

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Lot Essay

Originally referred to as Kirchen am Berg in the artist’s records, Klee later changed the title to Stadt der Kirchen.
Mais, puisque la maison où habitent les poissons s’appelle aquarium, celle où vos toiles s’ouvrent, en fenêtres, sur un miracle subtil mais indéniable, cette maison-là, je la baptiserai : Cielarium.
But since thus far a fish’s home has been called an aquarium, I will baptize your paintings’ home, where windows open up to a subtle yet undeniable miracle: Cielarium.
- René Crevel, "Merci, Paul Klee" in Centaure, Brussels, 3 December 1928.
Despite the challenges presented by living in war-torn Europe, Klee maintained a consistent artistic practice throughout the 1910s. Enlisted in the German aviation forces starting in 1916, he was required to transfer locations within the country several times until his final release in 1919. In the present Stadt der Kirchen, executed in 1918, the artist depicts the church-filled landscapes around him.
As stated by critic Gert Schiff on the occasion of a 1967 Klee retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York the specific pocket between 1915 and 1919 was elemental in the artist’s development of his unique conception of space, on display in the present drawing: "Klee develops a new concept of space, more expressive and more mysterious than the various spatial concepts of Cubism and Orphism from which he derived some of its elements. His is a spatial concept which is based on a constant and logically inextricable punning with inside and outside; what seems hollow in one context appears solid in another, top and bottom seem reversible and at times exchange roles” (G. Schiff, “Paul Klee at the Guggenheim” in Artforum, May 1967). This paradoxical play on density and inside versus outside is very much palpable in Stadt der Kirchnen, in part thanks to the artist’s command of the watercolor medium, whose very nature allows for subtle gradations between opacity and transparency.
A master of color and light, with an ability to turn walls into windows, as deemed by Surrealist poet René Crevel, Klee arranges the sacred buildings into a vibrant grid that highlights their dominance over German topography. With the delicacy of a stained-glass artist, he uses their vertical bell towers as the framework upon which to build the work’s composition, as he had done a year prior in Grüne Kirche und Kirchturm (The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., vol. 2, no. 1797). There too, the pillar of the church served as the compositional departure point for perspective, geometry and color. As in the present work, the symbolic role of the church as the center of the village, or community, was translated into Klee’s design.
In Stadt der Kirchen, in a Gothic fashion, the churches’ imposing stone structures appear as delicate and intricate as lace. Klee’s line is strong yet somewhat feverish and quivering, in this instance perhaps suggesting that in times of conflict, delicacy can equate to fragility. While serving, the artist would have seen first-hand the effects of war on the European landscape, and the sudden ephemerality of the age-old, familiar structures he came across in Germany would have reminded him of in his native Switzerland, or neighboring France. The same year, he would paint other watercolors, such as Mit dem Adler (The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., vol. 2, no. 1932), in which the landscape similarly takes on anthropomorphic qualities and expressivity: the eye of history, or that of Paul Klee, informing its speech.

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