Klee’s famous travels to the lands of Tunisia and Egypt have been frequently cited, due to the tremendous impact they had on the artist’s development. Nonetheless, there is another trip that is considered crucial to the artist’s development and an undeniable source of inspiration for his work: Italy, and in particular, the island of Sicily. Referencing the impact this land had on him, Klee wrote to his wife Lily in Munich in December 1924: ‘I experience nothing, don't even want to. I carry the mountains and sun of Sicily within me. Everything else is dull’ (P. Klee quoted in P. Valenti, 'Paul Klee's Journeys to Italy and Tunisia', Mediterranean Studies, vol. 15, Malta, 2006, p. 190).
Klee's connection with Italy ran deep: he had been in the country for the first time in 1914 while returning from Tunisia. The memories of the undulating hills, quaint architecture bathed in the golden sunlight, and charming clustered houses were memories that would bring him back several times.
The artist made a total of six visits to Italy during his lifetime. After gaining financial security, following his appointment as an instructor at the Bauhaus in 1921, he embarked on his first post-World War l expedition in 1924, accompanied by his beloved partner, Lily. For six awe-inspiring weeks, Klee and Lily roamed the picturesque Italian countryside, traversing the mesmerising cities of Genoa, Naples, and finally, the eastern shores of Sicily. The couple spent two weeks on the island between the idyllic beach of Mazzaró and the enchanting town of Taormina, before returning home via Rome and Milan.
Sicily played a pivotal role in shaping Klee’s artistic work. According to his son Felix, the initial inspiration for the artist’s ‘pointillist’ artworks, characterised by small squares of colour, can be traced back to his encounter with the mosaics in Ravenna. This profound experience was later reinforced by a visit to Sicily in 1931, where he explored the mosaics in Monreale and Palermo.
Each stroke of Klee’s brush encapsulates the unforgettable Sicilian escapade with Lily, with each work bearing a title reflecting the source of its inspiration. This exceptional work, one of a scarce group of around twenty-four pieces created by Klee in 1924, captures the essence of both nature and history, embodying the very spirit of the island that had inspired the artist. Entitled Strenge Gebirgsform, Kristallines Gebirge (Austere Mountain Shape, Crystalline Mountain), it portrays Mount Aetna beneath a serene blue-grey sky.