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


Paul Klee (1879-1940)
signed 'Klee' (upper right); dated, numbered and titled '1938 R3 KIRKE' (on the artist's mount)
watercolor on primed burlap laid down on card
Burlap size: 15 ½ x 16 in. (39.7 x 40.7 cm.) (irregular)
Mount size: 20 1/8 x 19 3/8 in. (50.9 x 49.2 cm.)
Painted in 1938
(probably) Lily Klee, Bern (wife of the artist).
(probably) Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern (acquired from the above, 1946).
Hermann and Margrit Rupf, Bern (probably acquired from the above, circa 1950).
Galerie Berggruen et Cie., Paris (by 1953).
Philippe Dotremont, Brussels (by 1954).
Philippe Leclerq, Hem (by 1960).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (by 1994).
Marc Blondeau, Paris.
David Tunkl Fine Art, Los Angeles.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, May 1996.
C. Kroll, Die Bildtitel Paul Klees, Eine Studie zur Beziehung von Bild und Sprache in der Kunst des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts, Ph.D. Diss., Universität Bonn, 1968, p. 33.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, 1934-1938, Bonn, 2003, p. 441, no. 7465 (illustrated).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Klee, February-March 1940, p. 16, no. 36.
Kunsthalle Bern, Paul Klee, November-December 1940, p. 11, no. 149.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum and Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbe-Museum, Collectie Philippe Dotremont, spring 1954, no. 42.
Musée d'Art Moderne de Villeneuve d'Ascq, Blast: Foyer et explosionSurréalisme européen, expressionnisme abstrait américan, December 1989-March 1990, no. 2 (illustrated in color).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Traum von Absoluten, June-September 1994, p. 64, no. 34 (illustrated in color, p. 30).
Hamm, Gustav-Lübke-Museum and Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Paul Klee: Reisen in den süden, January-July 1997, p. 238, no. 91 (illustrated in color, p. 205).
Munich, Haus der Kunst and Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van-Beuningen, Paul Klee: In der Maske des Mythos, January 1999-May 2000, p. 291, no. 88 (illustrated in color, p. 193).

Lot Essay

Klee’s work takes its inspiration from the motif of its title, Kirke representing Circe, the goddess of sorcery. Circe was a nymph known for her magical powers, not least of which being the ability to transform her foes into animal form. A magician of great power often associated with nature and the animal kingdom, Circe has remained a pertinent mythological symbol since the time of Ancient Greece, her antics expounded within Homer’s Odyssey, whereupon she was said to have turned his entourage into pigs. Her enigmatic beauty and perilous aptitude for potion-making has proven a significant inspiration within the history of art, seen in representations from Athenian amphorae, to Annibale Carracci’s Camerino Farnese from 1597 to the Pre-Raphelite depictions of John William Waterhouse whose portraits, such as Circe Invidiosa from 1892 are among the best-known. Although Klee operates within this art historical lineage, in creating this work, he neither idealizes nor demonizes his subject, deriving more an energized fascination with her being, her mystery and the realm of secret knowledge that she inhabits.
Here, rudimentary graphic elements define themselves against the burlap ground, providing the outlines to blocks of pale, pastel-colored pigment, separated by the visible canvas underneath, which organizes the pictorial structure as a whole. The two peering eyes in the lower center-left signify the presence of the mysterious sorceress within the patchwork of colored cyphers which refuse to elaborate on their meaning, like a secret, hieroglyphic code, indecipherable to the common viewer.
Kirke relates in content and formal attributes to Klee’s most impressively scaled work ever produced, Insula Dulcamara measuring an impressive 6 feet long. Created the same year, shortly after Kirke, its palette and composition owe much to the present work. Insula Dulcamara was originally titled Insel der Kalypso (Isle of Calypso), also referring back to Homer’s Odyssey, as the Zentrum Paul Klee noted (“Collection / Biographical photographs,” Paul Klee, Insula Dulcamara). Other works created immediately prior to Kirke, such as Severing of the Snake and Rising from the Dead, furthermore embody a playful exploration of storytelling within a web of pictorial signs, reflecting the symbolism of folklore and the role of the artist as not only storyteller but transformer, alchemist and conjurer of images.
Although such themes had always been of interest to Klee, his interest in escapist themes and a fascination with the concepts of life, death and the possibility of eternal life, as enjoyed by the gods of Olympus, appear to be pertinent at this time whereupon he had been suffering the effects of a degenerative skin disease. Added to this, the political news coming from Germany was unrelentingly discouraging, and revealed a growing wave of sinister intent and actual persecution that reached into all corners of society. The ostracism of undesirable artists was well underway. Klee learned in 1937 that fifteen of his works had been included in the infamous exhibition of "Degenerate Art," and more than a hundred others were being removed from German museums in an all-out purge of modern artists. Despite all these difficulties, Klee continued his daily routine and worked as hard as ever, escaping into the otherworldly realm of his art from the turmoil that surrounded him. Felix Klee has written: "How in addition to this intensified work my father still found time to mount the pictures, frame them, letter them, mount the watercolors and the innumerable drawings on cardboard and keep account of them all with scrupulous exactitude in his oeuvre catalogue, look after his favorite cat Bimbo, read books, receive visits, listen to music, go on small trips and even write letters, remains a mystery to me. The last three years of his life must be compared to the eruption of a volcano" (Paul Klee, New York, 1962, p. 73).
The Paris dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who by way of a contract with the artist in 1933 became Klee's exclusive agent for sales, declared: "this late production added a note of grandeur, not hitherto discernable, to Klee's work. Thus the hero triumphs over evil" (Paul Klee, New York, 1950, p. 14).

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