Paul Klee (1879 Münchenbuchsee - 1940 Muralto)
Watercolor in black on yellow-tinted vellum ; 20 x 23 cm
Bern, Charles Bornand collection, then by descent ; Bern, Kornfeld, 15th June 2012 ; Paris, private collection.
Paul Klee (Berne-Zurich-Winthertur, 1910-1911) ; Paul Klee (Berne, Kunsthalle, 1931) ; Paul Klee (Bâle, Kunsthalle, 1967).
Paul Klee Foundation, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Londres, 1998, n° 354.
This rare figurative work dates from Paul Klee's early years. He was twenty-nine years old, married, a young father, and lived in a three-room apartment in the bohemian district of Schwabing in Munich. He has given up his career as a musician for an artistic life, which does not yet nourish him (he will have his first solo exhibition in 1910), and confides his thoughts and hesitations to his Diary.
First, he expressed himself through engraving. In 1903, he developed an original technique consisting of blackening a glass plate from which he drew a picture by scratching with a needle. The Inventionen suite was exhibited at the Secession in Munich in 1906. He was fascinated by Cézanne and Van Gogh whom he had discovered in Paris in 1905 : had they not shown that figuration, and particularly the choice of still life as a motif, could open the way to the invention of modernity ?
By confronting himself to the motif through black and white, he intends, in his own words, "to distinguish the tonality (with or without colors) from chromatism" (Diary, 1908). Before dealing with oil painting and color, he wanted to explore the effects of light with "watercolor in black" (Schwarzaquarell). He describes the process in his Diary and this drawing is a perfect example : "By means of a first layer, I kept the main lights white. This layer of a strong light gray is by itself a perfectly reasonable effect, because it appears all dark on white (...). In this way, I progress by degrees to the deepest notes, and I keep this "chronographic" dosage as fundamental to the tonality" (Diary, 1908).
It is from a sunburst on the windowsill of this confined interior that he succeeds in delivering the portrait in shades of gray-brown. On the reverse side, long hidden by the montage, is the dark counterpart to this wonderful still life, a self-portrait sketched using the same technique, but angrily crossed out by the artist. In it, we catch the anxieties that plagued the young Paul Klee which he tried to exorcise in his Diary.
The story of this drawing and its role in Klee's life does not end there. In 1914, Klee wanted to travel to Tunisia with his friend Louis Moilliet and the painter August Macke. Klee gave to the Bernese pharmacist, and collector, Charles Bornand eight black watercolours painted between 1908 and 1911, including ours, in exchange Bornand undertook to cover the costs of the trip. The trip to Tunisia marked a turning point in Klee's life and career. He wrote in his Diary that he was determined to become a painter and that he would indeed become one, through his mastery of color...