The Paul Klee Stiftung, Bern has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Although Neo-Impressionism as practiced by Seurat, Signac and their followers declined as a movement in the 1890s, its principles and techniques had a significant impact on the direction of modern painting for several decades to come. Drawing heavily on scientific color theory, and using the pointillist application of pigment as its perfected technique, Neo-Impressionism offered an intellectually disciplined and analytical alternative to the naturalism of the Impressionists and the subjective, emotional approach of the expressionists (van Gogh and Gauguin).
Many early twentieth century artists passed through a Neo-Impressionist phase on their way to other styles; most notable were Matisse and the Fauves, who took the purity of Neo-Impressionist color to unbridled expressionist excess. Others, like Picasso, Gris, Severini and the Futurists, borrowed Neo-Impressionist technique as a means to their own stylistic ends. Indeed, such later references to pointillism already lend a nostalgic air to the delicately dotted planes in Picasso's synthetic Cubist works. When Picasso turned to use divisionism again in his classical figure paintings of 1917-1918 the result is a strange and anachronistic pastiche of styles and content, which is virtually an escape from the unrelenting march of modernism.
Klee's interest in Neo-Impressionism may derive from the influence of Robert Delaunay, whose abstract painting had a profound impact on the work of young German artists before the first World War. Delaunay had himself passed through a divisionist period around 1905, and Neo-Impressionist color theory was a major catalyst in the conception of his non-representational paintings.
Following the example of Robert Delaunay's Orphist paintings, Klee often utilized color rectangle themes as an underlying structural device in this pictures. These color rectangles are essentially a magnification of the smaller, squarish divisionist brushstroke derived from Neo-Impressionism. During the 1920s, Klee's goal became the development of "color polyphony," the simultaneous merging of flat color themes which create the illusion of depth, forming the visual equivalent of counterpoint in music. Klee realized that complex superimposition of color, no matter how deftly executed, would tend to a heavy opaqueness that would defeat the goal of transparent simultaneity. In the early 1930s a painterly solution revealed itself: divisionism, a kind of "color counter-pointillism."
Klee could be steadfastly systematic and disciplined in his approach to technique and composition, as in his great pointillist and polyphonic paintings of the late 1920s and early 1930s, or using the same basic technique, express himself freely and exuberantly, as he does here in Obstgarten, showing an orchard in full bloom. He had used a stippled brush stroke in his Seated Girl, 1907 (coll. Paul Klee Foundation, Kunstmuseum Bern) and various landscapes before 1920.
Klee used pointillism in muted tones in Orientalischer Lustgarden, also painted in 1925 (The Berggruen Klee Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The technique is practically suited to the shorthand depiction of foliage. Seemingly applied with improvisitory freedom and spontaneity, the riot of paint dabs coalesce into patterns and rhythms, puncuated by the presence of blue stick-figure tree trunks which clarify the artist's theme.
Such are the attractions of this scene that Klee thought it would serve as an appropriate birthday present for his friend the poet Hans Carossa, and gave it to him on the date inscribed in pencil on the mount, December 15, 1938. This recollection of spring, summoned forth at the beginning of winter, might also have held another meaning for both men: it was perhaps a reminiscence of a happier time gone by as the menacing darkness of a new winter appeared on the European horizon, events which would erupt into total war three years later.