Paul and Lily Klee travelled to Italy in 1924 for a six-week sojourn. Lily Klee outlined the trip in a letter to Emmy ‘Galka’ Scheyer, the artist’s dealer in America. She states that they left Bern on 7 September, arriving in Genoa where they stayed for two days. Travelling south, they then spent two days in Naples before proceeding to Sicily for the main part of their stay. On the way back, they stayed in Rome for nine days and Milan for two. Her impressions of Italy were overwhelmingly positive – in relation to Sicily in particular, she referred to the ever-blue skies, the seemingly endless sea, African-looking architecture, rich vegetation of cacti, fig and cypress trees, olive, orange and lemon groves… She also mentioned that Klee worked on many studies in Sicily (letter from Lily Klee to Emmy ‘Galka’ Scheyer, 14 October 1924, reproduced in M. Franciscono, ‘Paul Klees Sizilienurlaub von 1924’, in U. Gerlach-Laxner & E. Schwinzer, eds., exh. cat., Paul Klee, Reise in den Süden: Reisefieber praecisiert, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1997, pp. 59-60).
In the present work Paul Klee captures his impression of Castelmola, a small Sicilian medieval village north of Taormina built around the ruins of a Norman castle. With its patchwork of geometric shapes in hues of purples, blues, pinks and greens, the abstracted view of the village conveys the tight arrangement of buildings sitting on top of a hill. According to the artist’s biographer Will Grohmann, Klee ‘was always fascinated by a landscape with historical associations’ and ‘had visions of history and geography overlapping in terms of space’ (W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, New York, p. 71). To Klee, Sicily was the ‘springboard’ to North Africa and his Sicilian compositions resemble the Tunisian ones in their richness of colour and the semi-abstracted, mosaic-like depictions of landscapes and architecture (letter from Paul Klee to Lily Klee, 15 April 1930, in P. & F. Klee, Paul Klee: Briefe an die Familie, vol. II, Cologne, 1979, p. 1113). Although Klee often returned to the theme of North Africa after his 1914 stay in Tunisia, this motif appeared in his works more frequently in the lead-up to his Sicilian holiday in 1924, testifying to the affiliation he felt between the two regions.
As many of his Tunisian works, with its cubistic abstraction of the architectural forms of a medieval town, Mola illustrates how Klee fused the constructive principles of Cubism with the colour theory of Robert Delaunay to create a new, simple but articulate language representing nature in abstract terms but without completely departing from the world of objective reality. One of only a few of the Sicilian works to name a specific location in their title, here the colour harmonies of Delaunay's Orphist circles have been translated into the simplicity and compactness of the architectural geometry to create a cubist mosaic of coloured form that shimmers with light and gaiety. This joyous quality is conveyed purely through Klee's remarkable sensitivity to coloor and light and reflects the astonishing developments he had made in Tunisia and beyond.
In his handwritten notes, Klee referred to the present work as ‘Erinnerung an Castell Mola’ (a memory of Castelmola), suggesting that the piece was likely not executed during the trip, but rather upon the artist’s return to Weimar, possibly based on a study he created whilst still in Sicily. The theme of memory and the passage of time had been a long-standing concern in Klee’s work, dating back to his seminal sojourn in Tunisia in the spring of 1914, where he had begun work on the multi-layered composition Teppich der Erinnerung (Carpet of Memory) (Paul Klee Foundation, no. 1295). The first in a series of complex aides-mémoires that would emerge over the next decade, Klee condensed a number of different experiences and visual sensations from his trip into a single composition, using a personal vocabulary of graphic symbols and associated imagery to create a collage of remembrances. Much like his Tunisian trip, Klee’s stay in Sicily reappeared in his works for many years, until 1931 (M. Franciscono, op. cit., p. 57).