Paul Klee (1879-1940)
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Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Mittelalterliche Stadt

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Mittelalterliche Stadt
signed 'Klee' (upper left); dated and numbered '1915.219' (on the artist's original mount)
watercolour on paper laid down on the artist's mount
Sheet size: 7¾ x 10¼in. (19.8 x 26.2cm.);
Mount size: 9 x 12 3/8in. (23 x 31.6cm.)
Executed in 1915
H. Schleicher, Stuttgart.
Hanna Bekker von Rath, Frankfurt.
Acquired by the previous owner in the 1950s.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 April 1990, lot 132 (£462,000) where purchased by the present owner.
J. Anger, Modernism and the Gendering of Paul Klee, Dissertation, Brown University, 1997, p.138, note 6.
Paul Klee Foundation, Paul Klee Catalogue Raisonné 1913-1918, Vol.II, London, 2000, no. 1554, p.313 (illustrated).
Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Paul Klee und Albert Bloch, March, 1916, no. 43.
Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Expressionisten, Futuristen, Kubisten, July 1916, no. 35.
Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Sturm-Gesamtschau, March 1917, no. 33.
Zurich, Kunstsalon Rembrandt, Neue Kunst: Expressionisten, Kubisten, Futuristen, August 1919, no. 33.
Stuttgart, Kunstgebäude am Schlossplatz, Herbstschau Neuer Kunst. Der Sturm und Üecht-Gruppe, October - November 1919, no. 77.
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Lot Essay

Mittelalterliche Stadt (Medieval Town) is a complex semi-abstract watercolour from 1915 that both reflects Klee's absorption of many important avant-garde influences and marks the full maturation in his art that took place following his journey to Tunisia in 1914. Executed during the second year of the Great War, Mittelalterliche Stadt is a work that, despite the dramatic progress in Klee's art during this period, was painted in an atmosphere of increasing gloom. The painting's crystalline break-up of form, its bright joyful colouring and its heavy abstracting of reality were, for Klee, elements that reflected his desire to escape from the trauma of the times. As he recorded in 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)

Taking as its subject matter the compact architectural forms of a medieval town, Mittelalterliche Stadt illustrates how Klee fused the constructive principles of Cubism with the colour theory of Delaunay to create a new, simple but articulate language that represents Nature in abstract terms but without completely departing from the world of objective reality. In Mittelalterliche Stadt the colour harmonies of Delaunay's Orphist circles are translated into the toy-town simplicity and compactness of the architectural geometry to create a Cubist mosaic of coloured form that shimmers with light and gaiety. This joyous quality is conveyed purely through Klee's remarkable sensitivity to colour and light and reflects the astonishing developments he had made while in Tunis and Kaiouran, - two medieval towns in Tunisia - where Klee experimented with precisely the same break-up of form using a similar combination of Cubist and colourist principles.

As a harmonious tapestry of abstract form and colour Mittelalterliche Stadt 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 colours: the row of watercolours in my paintbox." Indeed, if this lyrical painting refers to a specific medieval town at all, it is most likely to be the old town of Klee's native Bern, which the artist and his wife visited in the summer of 1915. During this very socially active visit Klee played a great deal of music with friends he had not seen for a long time and tried his best to forget the pervasive presence of the war.

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