PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
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PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ALMA AND ALFRED HITCHCOCK
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)

Maske mit Sense

Details
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
Maske mit Sense
signed 'Klee' (lower left); dated, titled and numbered '1927 g.5. "Maske mit Sense"' (on the artist's mount)
watercolor and brush and black ink on paper mounted on card
Sheet size: 18 3⁄8 x 12 1⁄4 in. (46.7 x 31 cm.)
Mount size: 24 3⁄4 x 17 7⁄8 in. (62.8 x 45.5 cm.)
Executed in 1927
Provenance
Galka E. Scheyer, Hollywood (by 1933).
Acquired by the late owners, circa 1938.
Literature
W. Grohmann, Paul Klee: Handzeichnungen, 1921-1930, Berlin, 1934, no. 124.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, 1927-1930, Bonn, 2001, vol. 5, p. 116, no. 4379.
J. Gunz, “Hitch Puts a Bird on It: Paul Klee’s Influence on the Master of Suspense," Critical Insights Film: Alfred Hitchcock, D.A. Cunningham, ed., Amenia, 2017, p. 249.
Exhibited
Hollywood Gallery of Modern Art and Oakland Art Gallery, Paintings by Paul Klee, July-October 1935.
San Francisco Museum of Art, Paul Klee, January-February 1937.
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Nineteenth International Exhibition of Watercolors, April-May 1940, no. 132.

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Lot Essay

In a 1905 diary entry, Klee compiled a list of literary quotes about dark humor, including this: “Somewhat more banally [poet Heinrich] Heine says: To Laugh, as if Death were tickling us with a scythe’”—an apt description of Hitchs humor as well.
(J. Gunz, “Hitch Puts a Bird on It: Paul Klee’s Influence on the Master of Suspense,” in D.A. Cunningham, ed., op. cit., p. 249)
In 1925, five years after its founding, the Bauhaus found itself brusquely expelled from its site in Weimar by the Nazi-controlled Thuringian parliament. For all the sinister implications of this action, the subsequent move to Dessau proved auspicious for Klee and his family. The years 1925-1926 saw closer contact with Wassily Kandinsky—with whom Klee stayed while the Dessau buildings were being prepared—as well as the formation of the Klee Gesellschaft, the subscription 'Klee Society' which greatly improved the artist's financial circumstances. In December 1926, Klee and his fellow 'masters' finally moved into the new residential quarters designed by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder and talisman. The artist's new home was spacious and he was surrounded by those of his closest colleagues, Lyonel Feininger, Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer among others.
In the present work, executed in 1927 and inscribed Maske mit Sense (Mask with Scythe), Klee summons forth a masked phantasm from a shadowy ground, who throws up his arms in a histrionic gesture of confusion or terror, his eyes punctuating the eerie darkness to confront the viewer. With his lifelong passion for all forms of theatrical illusion and fantasy, from classical opera to circus and cabaret-style varieté, Klee populated his visual worlds with puppets, grotesques, marionettes, and masks, and with actors, musicians, dancers, acrobats, and other artists of the stage and circus ring. “Everything that reminds us of stage and scenery reaches deep into our souls,” he declared (quoted in The Klee Universe, exh. cat., Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2008, p. 165).
Klee’s interest in the expressive potential of masks and puppetry first emerged in Munich during the mid-teens, when the artist and his young son Felix were regulars at the Auer Dult, a traditional local flea market. While Klee searched for painting supplies and frames, Felix would sit utterly entranced before Kasperl and Gretl (Punch and Judy) performances. For the boy’s ninth birthday in 1916, Klee made him a puppet theater and a set of eight hand puppets; some three dozen more puppets would follow in the ensuing decade. “Indescribably expressive, each single figure,” Lyonel Feininger recalled. “There was no end to the laughing and the enthusiasm when Felix gave a performance” (quoted in M. Plant, Paul Klee, Figures and Faces, London, 1978, p. 100).
At the Bauhaus during the 1920s, festivals and celebrations were an integral part of community life, from the Lantern Festival on the summer solstice to the Carnival at the end of winter. These festivities provided Felix an opportunity to develop his comedic talent as a puppeteer (he eventually made theater his career), while for Klee they were a rich source of visual stimuli. The present work, for instance, evokes the sight of masks and costumes, generating a mood of revelry shot through with a frisson of fear.
Maske mit Sense was the first of several works by Klee that Alfred Hitchcock acquired. Joel Gunz has written, “In 1938, following the premiere of The Lady Vanishes, Hitch stopped in at an art exhibition in London to admire a certain painting. His eyes flitted back and forth between the painting and it’s £600 price tag as he wondered if he could afford the splurge—and the possibility of a chilly talk about finances with his wife, Alma. True, the movie had opened to high praise, but still… He paced back and forth in front of it, then walked away for a moment—only to circle back again for another look. In the end, he went for his checkbook, and Paul Klee’s Mask with Scythe became one of the foundational pieces of what eventuated into the Hitchcock’s museum-quality collection of modern art” (D.A. Cunningham, ed., op. cit., p. 249).
“Hitch referred to Klee as his favorite artist, and he often mentioned the artist in interviews. Chandler suggests that Hitch’s own drawing style 'bore a certain resemblance to Klee,' and that Hitch even went so far as to say, 'Klee could have made good storyboards, you know.' It is easy to see why Hitchcock felt an affinity for the artist; both gleefully mixed lightness and darkness, comedy and the macabre, suspense and humor in innovative and illuminating ways. They offer easy entertainment, yet upon closer examination, those diversions give way to more serious matters. Klee wrote in his dairy in 1906: 'To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers' (The Diaries of Paul Klee, Berkeley, 1964, p. 198). Hitch just as easily could have said it. Temperamentally, both projected an air of bourgeois professionalism—a perfect cover to go about their real business of subverting our assumptions and hypocrisies. The seeming casualness of their work masked a rigorous intellect, which they felt compelled to codify in writing, teaching and interviews. The theater was a favorite subject for both men, and they used it as a launching point for explorations into the nature of reality versus representation. In addition to their love of symbolism, both embraced its offspring, surrealism and expressionism, and both helped bring romanticism into the twentieth century” (J. Gunz, op. cit., p. 250).

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