Painted in 1932, Stadtburg Kr. is a magnificent example of Klee's ability to blend architectural elements and geometric forms into a fantastic, dream-like composition. Following the architect Walter Gropius's invitation to teach at the Bauhaus in October 1920, the artist moved to Weimar, and the subsequent years were to be the most innovative and productive of his career. Inspired by the Bauhaus belief in constructivist art, Klee's work became increasingly abstract and geometricised. The present work was executed shortly after he left the Bauhaus and moved to Düsseldorf, where he accepted a teaching post at the Staatliche Kunstakademie. During this time (1931-33), Klee introduced a pointillist technique in his watercolours and oils, such as Ad Parnassum (fig. 1). The present work, however, is a rare example where he replaced dots with small rectangular forms, combining them in a wonderfully poetic fashion.
Architecture had been an important source of inspiration for the artist since the early days of his career. 'Everywhere I see only architecture, linear rhythms, planar rhythms', he wrote in his diary as early as 1902. This sense of rhythm and movement is beautifully rendered in the present work. While Klee based the composition on a vertical and horizontal grid, he created a wonderfully dynamic, pulsating image, rather than a rigid, strictly geometric one. According to Klee's own analysis, he tried 'to achieve the greatest possible movement with the least possible means (economy of means obtained by repetition of a limited number of simple structural characteristics)' (quoted in J. Spiller (ed.), op. cit., p. 234).
Christina Thomson wrote that Klee's 'architectural and urbanistic forms permeate his entire oeuvre, at both a structural-theoretical level and with respect to motif. Klee gives his architecture countless faces. He represents it in cities, villages, and houses; he piles it up into palaces, temples, and castles, concentrates it into urban bundles, blends it with natural landscapes, transforms it into a stage, lets it withdraw into interior spaces, and dissects it into individual parts. [...] Klee causes real architectural forms to collide with invented or symbolic elements, mixing the familiar with the visionary and space with dream. The result is fantastical cities, castles in the air, and dream worlds that fuse into a singularly dynamic architectural cosmos: nothing is rigid and purely geometric; everything pulsates, swells, follows, hovers, or glows' (C. Thomson in The Klee Universe (exhibition catalogue), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2008, p. 231).
The first owner of Stadtburg Kr. was Richard Doetsch-Benziger, a major early collector of Klee's art. Doetsch-Benziger first started collecting books and from 1912 turned to Modern paintings, drawings and sculpture, mainly focusing on smaller scale works and eventually amassing an impressive collection that included works by artists ranging from Renoir, Maillol and Bonnard to Cubist works by Picasso, Braque and Gris, as well as by modern German masters such as Nolde, Campendonk, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Feininger. His biggest passion, however, was for works by Paul Klee, which probably attracted him for their small scale, richness of technique and association with illuminated manuscripts. The first exhibition of Richard Doetsch-Benziger's collection was held at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, where the present work was included. A number of works from his collection were later donated to this museum.
Fig. 1, Paul Klee, Ad Parnassum, 1932, oil on canvas, Kunstmuseum, Bern
Oil and tempera on gesso on board
36 by 30.5cm.
14 1/4 by 12in.
Painted in 1932.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 1935, no. 63
Basel, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 1935, no. 53
Basel, Kunsthalle, Gedächtnisausstellung Paul Klee, 1941, no. 305, illustrated in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie d'Art Moderne, Paul Klee. Tafelbilder und Aquarelle aus Privatbesitz, 1949, no. 39
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Sammlung Richard Doetsch-Benziger. Malerei, Zeichnung und Plastik des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, 1956, no. 190, illustrated in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie Liatowitsch, Aus der Sammlung Doetsch-Benziger, 1971, illustrated in the catalogue
Geneva, Musée Rath, Art du 20e siècle, collections genevoises, 1973, no. 74, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Passions partagées. De Cézanne à Rothko, chefs-d'œuvre du XXe siècle dans les collections privées suisses, 2009, no. 55, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
36 by 30.5cm. 14 1/4 by 12in.
Margit Bosshard-Rebmann, Paul Klee. Sammlung Richard Doetsch-Benziger, Basel, Basel, 1953, no. 21
Will Grohmann, Paul Klee, Stuttgart, 1954, mentioned p. 207
Jürg Spiller (ed.), Paul Klee. Notebooks. The Thinking Eye, London, 1961, vol. I, illustrated p. 232
Will Grohmann, Paul Klee, London, 1967, mentioned p. 108
Sadao Wada, Paul Klee and His Travels, Tokyo, 1979, no. 363, illustrated
The Paul Klee Foundation (ed.), Paul Klee, Catalogue Raisonné, Bonn, 2002, vol. 6, no. 5858, illustrated p. 240
Richard Doetsch-Benziger, Basel (acquired by 1935)
Galerie Liatowitsch, Basel
Acquired from the above in 1971