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

Flora noctis

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Flora noctis
signed 'Klee' (lower left); dated, numbered and titled '1939 Aii Flora noctis' (on the artist's mount)
gouache, watercolor and brush and black ink on paper laid down on paper
Sheet size: 11 5/8 x 8 1/8 in. (29.5 x 20.7 cm.)
Mount size: 16 5/8 x 12 7/8 in. (42.1 x 32.7 cm.)
Painted in 1939
Lily Klee, Bern (wife of the artist; by 1940).
Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern (acquired from the above, 1946).
Douglas Cooper, Argilliers.
Galerie Berggruen & Cie., Paris (acquired from the above).
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 1956).
Dr. Herschel C. Walker, New York (by 1958).
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 20 October 1977, lot 129A.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Heinz Berggruen, Paris.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1984.
V. Hugo, "Le verger de Paul Klee," Cahiers d'Art, nos. 20-21, 1945-1946, p. 73 (illustrated).
K.E. Kramer, Mythopoetic Politics and the Transformation of the Classical Underworld Myth in the Late Work of Paul Klee, Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, New York, 1993, p. 98.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, 1939, Bonn, 2004, vol. 8, p. 194, no. 8096 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Bern, Paul Klee, November-December 1940, p. 12, no. 168.
London, The National Gallery, Paul Klee, 1945, p. 8, no. 123.
Norwich, Castle Museum; Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery and Manchester, City Art Gallery, Paul Klee, May-October 1946, no. 46.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, A Selection of 20th Century Paintings, 1905-1955, November-December 1956, no. 13.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 10th Anniversary Exhibition, September-November 1958, no. 33 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Paul Klee, October-November 1981, p. 73, no. 30 (illustrated, p. 57).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., XIX and XX Century Master Drawings and Watercolors, April-May 1984, p. 48, no. 21 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Klee left Germany in late 1933, soon after Hitler's ascendancy to power, and settled in Bern, where he had lived during his youth. Events of the day notwithstanding, Klee produced an enormous body of work during the final years of his life, all the more astonishing because he was also contending with the symptoms of scleroderma, a terminal skin disease. The artist was initially bedridden, but he learned to cope with his condition and resumed work by sitting at a large drawing table instead of standing at an easel (fig. 1). He produced only 25 works in 1936, but this number quickly bounded to 264 in 1937, 489 in 1938, and over 1,200 in 1939. Klee wrote to his son Felix: "Productivity is increasing in range and at a highly accelerated tempo; I can no longer entirely keep up with these children of mine. They run away with me. There is a certain adaptation taking place, in that drawings predominate. Twelve hundred items in 1939 is really something of a record performance" (F. Klee, Paul Klee: His Life and Work in Documents, New York, 1962, p. 72).
Flora noctis, an example from this period of great vigor, displays the succinct graphic elements and simplified colors that constitute the signature formal vocabulary of Klee's late style. The confronting portrait and its expression have been composed from the furthest reduced signs that constitute the human face, as Matthias Bärmann has observed, "His reduced, sign-like repertoire gave Klee, who was aware of how little time remained to him, a spontaneous outlet for his enormous creative urge" (Paul Klee: Fulfillment in the Late Work, Hanover, 2003, p. 15). Even while his work had moved towards an increasingly abstract, universalized and minimalist means of expression, Klee captures a sense of innocence, vulnerability and wonder within his subject, creating a curious narrative through the combination of this image with its poetic, Latin title expressing Klee’s interest in mythology.
The motif of the night flower occurs earlier in Klee’s oeuvre in such masterworks as Blüten in der Nacht from 1930, in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Flower Myth from 1918, held in the Sprengel Museum, Hannover. In speaking of Flower Myth, Kathryn Porter Aichele correlates its narrative to the novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen by Novalis whereupon the protagonist Heinrich has a dream, transporting him into a landscape of extraordinary natural wonder, reaching the pinnacle of his encounter upon discovering a blue flower which later recurs as a significant and intoxicating, mysterious symbol. As Porter Aichele notes of Flower Myth “Despite the apparently fanciful nature of the imagery, the painting expresses ideas about the relationship between art and nature that are not just coincidentally related to Romanticism, but evolved from Klee’s deep reservoir of knowledge about the works of art and literature that defined the German Romantic spirit… Despite occasional hints that the flower is linked to Heinrich’s search for spiritual truth and his love for the innocent Mathilde, in the end, the meaning of the flower is left to the reader’s imagination. Klee’s imagination produced a synthesis of pictorial structure and symbolic language that reinterprets familiar themes in Romantic art and literature” (“Paul Klee’s Flower Myth: Themes from German Romanticism Reinterpreted” Notes in the History of Art, vol. 8, no. 3, 1989, p. 16). In Flora noctis, Klee approaches this theme in the same blue palette, utilizing a human element to introduce Heinrich’s somnambulist, floral vision to create a work filled with intimacy, introspection and the beauty of nature in all its mystery.

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