In 1925, five years after its founding, the Bauhaus found itself brusquely expelled from its site in Weimar by the Nazi-controlled Thuringian parliament. For all the sinister implications of this action, the subsequent move to Dessau proved auspicious for Klee and his family. The years 1925-1926 saw closer contact with Kandinsky--with whom Klee stayed while the Dessau buildings were being prepared--as well as the formation of the Klee Gesellschaft, the subscription 'Klee Society' which greatly improved the artist's financial circumstances and would later own the present painting from 1946-1952. In December 1926, Klee and his fellow 'masters' finally moved into the new residential quarters designed by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder and talisman. The artist's new home was spacious--replete with combined music and dining room, pantry, kitchen, maid's room, three bedrooms and enlarged studio--and he was surrounded by those of his closest colleagues, Feininger, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy and Schlemmer among others.
The present work dates from the following year, poised between the stimulating, however ominous, relocation and the artist's seminal trip to Egypt. The basic, descriptive titling--Pflanze und Fenster Stilleben--suggests a traditional interior. Nevertheless, the distorted, planar imagery and diametric color--what Klee once called "the irrational element in painting"--describe anything but. The sun and moon play off one another above the window; the hot, luminous tones of the plant glow against the black void of the window, the straightened lines at the upper left loosely connecting the two. Indeed, the window is the only strictly 'mural' feature, one whose dark ambiguity complements the neutral olive background. Of the rich, inventive Dessau pictures William Grohmann has written: "Klee at this time was about fifty years old and had achieved such a degree of freedom that he could afford to obey impulse. He was receptive to everything and penetrated into ever more distant regions of time and space. For him the most remote was also the nearest, and past and future were equally present" (Paul Klee, London, 1969, p. 309).
One wall of Klee's capacious new Dessau studio was conspicuously painted black. The present window's darkness, emphasized by its gaudy red curtains, may then be read one of two ways: the view the outside affords is entirely black--reflecting what his son, Felix, called Dessau's "unpleasant emanations" (in Paul Klee, New York, 1962, p. 55)--or we are peering back into the artist's studio. In either case, the mysterious figure at lower right corresponds schematically with the window, blacks and reds juxtaposed, and may recall the youthful, rounded head of Pierre Matisse in his father's La Leçon de Piano (fig. 1). La Leçon, another exploration of pictorial space, shares much else with the present work: complementary shapes, bright tones against neutral backgrounds, temporal symbols, the candle and metronome, the sun and moon, flat, dominant windows and musical overtones.
The 'hieroglyphic' block at the upper right corner presents a further mystery, however. Grohmann sees the tablet as the key to an otherwise insoluble composition: "the tablet of hieroglyphics on the wall--if only we knew how to read it--might perhaps explain the strong tension of the black and red on the cold green ground, the connection between the silvery moon, the exotic plants, and the head of the Negro child. A disquieting story from the Orient disguised as a 'still life'" (op. cit., p. 310). The 'impulsiveness' Grohmann earlier concedes to mid-life Klee belies this subjunctive conclusion. The preceding work according to the artist's meticulous numbering is another still life, its elements neatly arranged and framed by richly patterned curtains (The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., no. 4231; fig. 2). The present 'hieroglyphics' echo this pattern and may therefore be read as another token of the artist's studio. The 'interior' plant and residual patterning are then balanced overhead by the 'exterior' sun and moon; the planar state is inconclusive, the window its ambiguous fulcrum. The play between the black studio wall within and the darkening political landscape without finely captures Klee's preoccupations in Dessau and his premonitions of events to come.
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, La Leçon de piano, 1916. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Barcode: 2800 0259
(fig. 2) Paul Klee, Stilleben (Töpfe, Frucht, Osterei, Gardinen Etc.), 1927. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Barcode: 2800 0273
Pflanze und Fenster Stilleben
Oil on canvas
Property from a Distinguished Private Collection: Four Modern Masterpieces
Signed, dated and inscribed 'Klee 1927 K.9' (lower left)
Paul Klee , 20th Century, Paintings, oil, Switzerland, Modern, interior
Hollywood, Braxton Gallery (no. 2); San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor (no. 24); The Oakland Art Gallery (no. 2); Santa Barbara, The Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery (no. 1); The Arts Club of Chicago (no. 123) and Los Angeles Museum (no. 124), The Blue Four, 1930-1933.
Kunstmuseum Luzern, Paul Klee, Fritz Huf, April-June 1936, no. 27.
Kunsthalle Bern (no. 22) and Kunsthalle Basel (no. 284), Gedächtnisausstellung Paul Klee, November 1940-March 1941.
London, The National Gallery, Paul Klee 1879-1940, December 1945- February 1946, no. 85.
Kunstmuseum Bern, Paul Klee. Ausstellung in Verbindung mit der Paul-Klee-Stiftung, September-November 1956, no. 555.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Présence des Maîtres, June-September 1967, no. 24.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paul Klee, November 1969- Feburary 1970, no. 81 (illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Paul Klee 1879-1940, October 1970-January 1971, no. 87 (illustrated).
Humlebaek, Louisiana-Museum, Paul Klee. Wassily Kandinsky, October 1971-January 1972, no. 93.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., March-April 2002 (illustrated in color, pl. 14).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
18¾ x 23 in. (47.6 x 58.4 cm.)
W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, Stuttgart, 1954, p. 284 (illustrated).
J. Spiller, Paul Klee. Das bilderische Denken. Formund Gestaltungslehre, Basel, 1956, p. 72.
M. Huggler, Paul Klee. Die Malerei als Blick in den Kosmos, Stuttgart, 1969, p. 105.
R. Verdi, "Paul Klee's Fish Magic an Interpretation" in The Burlington Magazine, 1974, pp. 147-155.
J. Pierce, Paul Klee and Primitive Art, Ph.D. diss., New York, 1976, pp. 150 and 153.
D. Chavalier, Paul Klee, Neue Ergänzte Ausgabe, Munich, 1979, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
B. Tower, Klee and Kandinsky in Munich and at the Bauhaus, Ann Arbor, 1981, p. 184 (illustrated, p. 140).
R. Verdi, Klee and Nature, London, 1984, p. 184 (illustrated).
E.G. Guse, Paul Klee Dialogue with Nature, Munich, 1991, p. 27 (illustrated).
J. Anger, Modernism and the Gendering of Paul Klee, Ph.D. diss., Providence, 1997, p. 164.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, Bern, 2001, vol. 5, p. 43, no. 4232 (illustrated; illustrated in color, p. 57).
Galka E. Scheyer, New York (by 1928).
Lily Klee, Bern (1940-1946).
Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern (1946-1952).
Werner Allenbach, Bern (by 1952).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (until 1967).
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich (by 1967).
Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden.
Private collection, Germany.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.