Paul Klee

1920–1931 Bauhaus master

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Portrait of Paul Klee / Photo: Hugo Erfurth, 1927.

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From 1899 to 1906, Paul Klee studied in Munich, first of all at a private school run by Heinrich Knirr and then at the academy of art under Franz von Stuck. His first solo exhibition took place in Switzerland in 1910. In the ensuing years, Klee developed his contacts with the artists Alfred Kubin and Wassily Kandinsky and participated in the second Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) exhibition. In 1912, he travelled to Paris and met artists of the French avant-garde, including Robert Delaunay and Henri Le Fauconnier. In 1913, Klee exhibited at Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm in Berlin and at the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon (first German autumn salon) in Berlin. Together with August Macke and Louis Moilliet, he travelled to Tunis and Kairouan. That same year, he became co-founder of the New Munich Secession. In 1919, he was signed by the Munich gallery owner Hans Goltzand and became a member of Munich’s visual arts council and its Aktionsausschuss Revolutionäre Künstler (action committee of revolutionary artists). In 1920, the gallery Goltz held the first large solo exhibition with more than 362 works by Klee.


Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern / © free
Architecture with Window, author: Paul Klee, 1919.

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In December 1920, Walter Gropius appointed Klee to the Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar. Following a three-month introductory period, Klee began teaching on May 13, 1921, initially in a fortnightly “Practical Composition Course”. His first regular semester, in which he focused on theoretical aspects, began in November 1921. As a supplement to practical technical teaching, he taught a theoretical course on Form, which was a compulsory element of the foundation course, together with preliminary teaching. His dated and transcribed lectures were documented in a book entitled Beiträge zur bildnerischen Formlehre (“Contributions to a Pictorial Theory of Form”). From the autumn of 1923 onwards, his teaching was described in timetables as “Design Course: Form”. These lecture manuscripts are documented in the bundle of his teaching notes in Chapter I.2 Principielle Ordnung (“Principle Order”) and II. 21 Mechanik (“Mechanics”). In addition to the theoretical course on Form, Klee also taught Drawing, as well as organising the evening Life Drawing classes for a number of semesters between 1923 and 1929. In 1921, he became Head of the Book-Binding Workshop, before becoming Head of the Metal Workshop in 1922 and Head of the Glass Painting Workshop from 1922/23 to 1925. The first exhibition on Klee in New York was organised in 1924. The same year, he co-founded the group “Die Blauen Vier” (“The Blue Four”) together with the artists Alexej Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger. A year later, the Parisian Galerie Vavin-Raspail organised the first French exhibition of works by Klee. In 1925 Klee’s Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (“Pedagogical Sketchbook”) was the second volume of the series of Bauhaus books published by the school itself.

From the winter semester of 1925/26 until 1930, Klee taught his Design course, alternating between lectures and exercises. From the summer semester of 1927 to 1930, he also offered an additional course that he described as “Weaving Design”. His Weaving teachings were especially focused on the planimetric design of surfaces, forming the largest part of his bundle of teaching notes entitled “Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre” (“Pictorial Design Teaching”). From 1927 to 1929, Klee’s pocket diary also notes formal teaching for 4th-semester students. Together with the Life Drawing course, which he also led in the winter semesters between 1927/28 and 1929/30, and the Free Painting course from 1927/28, these three years of teaching were a great burden on Klee. As a result, he handed in his notice and terminated his teaching on April 1, 1931. 

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © gemeinfrei
The Saint of Inner Light, author: Paul Klee, 1921.

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After ending his teaching activities at the Bauhaus in 1931, he received a professorship at the Düsseldorf art academy, a post which he held until 1933. After the NSDAP seized power and classed Klee’s work as 'degenerate art', he was immediately fired. He returned to Switzerland the same year. In 1937, the Kunsthalle Bern held a retrospective of Klee’s oeuvre. Klee died after a long illness in 1940 in Muralto near Locarno.

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Paul Klee in his workshop in his Masters' House, Dessau, photo: Lucia Moholy, 1927.
  1. Literature:
  2. - complete teaching notes by Paul Klee as a facsimile and transcripts, as well as comments on each chapter
  3. Eggelhöfer, Fabienne and Keller, Marianne (2012): Meister Klee! Lehrer am Bauhaus, exhibition catalogue, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern (also available as an eBook).
  4. Hopfengart, Christine and Baumgartner, Michael (2012): Paul Klee. Leben und Werk, with texts by Fabienne Eggelhöfer, Osamu Okuda, Myriam Weber, Eva Wiederkehr Sladeczek and Patrizia Zeppetella, Ostfildern.
  5. Gerlach-Laxner, Uta & Ellen Schwinzer (2009): Lyonel Feininger – Paul Klee. Malerfreunde am Bauhaus, exhibition catalogue, Gustav-Lübcke-Museum Hamm, Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg, Bramsche.
  6. Herzogenrath, Wulf (2003): Paul Klee – Lehrer am Bauhaus, Bremen.
  7. Hopfengart, Christine (2015): Klee & Kandinsky. Nachbarn Freunde Konkurrenten, exhibition catalogue, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich.
  8. Scholz, Dieter (2008): Das Universum Klee, Ostfildern.
  9. Wagner, Christoph (2005): Das Bauhaus und die Esoterik. Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Bielefeld.
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