Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879-1940) Eine Schwärmende sheet 27.8 x 17.7cm (10 15/16 x 6 15/16in); artist's mount 42.5 x 30.7cm (16 3/4 x 12 1/16in).  (Executed in 1938)

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Lot 18
Paul Klee
(Swiss, 1879-1940)
Eine Schwärmende sheet 27.8 x 17.7cm (10 15/16 x 6 15/16in); artist's mount 42.5 x 30.7cm (16 3/4 x 12 1/16in).

£ 120,000 - 180,000
US$ 160,000 - 240,000
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Eine Schwärmende
signed 'Klee' (upper right); inscribed, numbered and dated '1938 H 4 eine Schwärmende' (on the artist's mount, lower centre)
gouache, distemper and watercolour on paper laid down on card
sheet 27.8 x 17.7cm (10 15/16 x 6 15/16in); artist's mount 42.5 x 30.7cm (16 3/4 x 12 1/16in).
Executed in 1938


  • Provenance
    Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler Collection, Paris, until 1941.
    Dr. Helmut Beck, Stuttgart, until 2002 (acquired from the above).
    Private collection, Germany; their sale, Villa Grisebach, Berlin, 26 November 2010, lot 52.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Neuere Kunst aus württembergischem Privatbesitz, I. Klassische Moderne, 13 April – 17 June 1973, no. 101.
    Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Klee und Kandinsky. Erinnerung an eine Künstlerfreundschaft anlässlich Klees 100. Geburstag, 6 May - 29 July 1979, no. 97.

    The Paul Klee Foundation (eds.), Paul Klee, catalogue raisonné, Vol. VII, 1934 - 1938, London, 2003, no. 7305 (illustrated p. 363).

    Executed in 1938 during a period of extraordinary fecundity for Paul Klee, Eine Schwärmende is a triumphant work which conveys the expressivity and resolve that characterises his late oeuvre. On Christmas Eve 1933 Klee left Germany following the National Socialists' rise to power. Denounced as a modern artist and later as a 'degenerate artist', Klee was suspended from his professorship at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art in April 1933 and suddenly found himself isolated and ostracised in the city that he had once called home. He decided to return with his wife to the place where he had spent his childhood, Bern, and it was here that he would remain until his death in 1940. In 1935 Klee became ill and was later diagnosed with 'scleroderma' – a rare and terminal auto-immune disease. After a brief spell bed-ridden and a hiatus in his work, Klee began to regain his creative energy and, despite his weakened physical state, would embark on one of the most prolific and significant periods of his career.

    Writing to their friend and art historian Will Grohmann in July 1937, Klee's wife Lily described this new change that she witnessed in her husband after the initial onset of his illness: 'He stays up until eleven at night, and sheet after sheet falls to the floor as in the old days, strange!' (L. Klee, quoted in C. Hopfengart & M. Baumgartner, Paul Klee, Life and Work, Bern, 1912, p. 285). In 1937 Klee produced 264 works (after only 25 in 1936), in 1938 this increased to 489, later peaking in the following year to 1,253 (averaging more than three works a day), an achievement which Klee would later proudly describe to his son as 'record breaking' (P. Klee writing to Felix Klee in 1939, ibid., p. 294).

    Formed through a riotous combination of vibrant primary colour, surface pattern and expressive line, Eine Schwärmende is testament to the new joy and creative liberation that Klee enjoyed in these final years. Instilled in the small 4 x 5 metre studio in Kisterlweg, and seated at a swivelling drawing table rather than standing at an easel so to better preserve his energy, Klee worked tirelessly and deliberately. It was also at this moment that Klee turned to coloured paste as a preferred medium and, as seen in the present work, uses a brush to spontaneously and directly apply the rich pigment. There is a sense of immediacy and abandonment visible within Eine Schwärmende, along with many other works from this period, which some critics have argued anticipates the Informel paintings of the 1950s and 60s.

    This hitherto unknown expressiveness in Klee's oeuvre may also be attributed in part to a notable visit from Pablo Picasso in late 1937, shortly before the execution of Eine Schwärmende. Picasso's trip to Bern was not expressly organised with the intention of meeting Klee, but he was urged to see the artist by the collector Hermann Rupf. The meeting was an amicable one in which both artists voiced an appreciation of the other's work, although Klee was later anxious not to incorporate Picasso's aesthetic into his own oeuvre: 'it is important to watch out that his style does not sneak up on me' Klee stated 'because he is a great and very strong personality,' (P. Klee quoted in S. Rewald, Paul Klee, New York, 1988, p. 268). Picasso's influence can nonetheless be detected in Klee's subsequent work in his enlargement of scale, newfound expressivity and interest in experimenting with the human form.

    Eine Schwärmende is one such example of this experimentation with the figure. The subject is here composed through the barest of means: succinct graphic notations denote eyes, nose and mouth, with a shock of auburn hair arching over the notional face in a single stroke from a loaded brush. The body itself is conveyed by a sinuous inky line which winds its way vertically through the picture plane, while the figure's legs seem to be referenced by the two vertical lines which anchor the curved line to the lower edge of the sheet - an observation which is soon undone when we discern an echoing of the motif at the upper edge. In Eine Schwärmende Klee deliberately blurs the line between figuration and abstraction, representation and surface design, playing a visual game with his viewers. His distillation of form into signs or pictograms is characteristic of the artistic language that he employed in his late period, and positions Klee alongside other artists such as Miró, Matisse and Picasso, who all developed personal systems of sign-making in their oeuvre.

    Matthias Bärmann has reflected on the psychological influences of Klee's illness on his late work, influences which prompted a paring down of visual language as the intensity of his production increased: 'His reduced, sign-like repertoire gave Klee, who was aware of how little time remained to him, a spontaneous outlet for his enormous creative urge.' (M. Bärmann, Paul Klee, Death and Fire, Fulfilment in the Late Work, Basel, 2003, p. 15). Indeed, according to Klee's own account, his creative activity finally began to resemble an automatic process that could scarcely be controlled: 'The magnitude of my production increases at a tremendous rate, and I can't entirely keep up with these children anymore, They just happen.' (P. Klee writing to his son, Felix, quoted in C. Hopfengart & M. Baumgartner, op. cit., p. 316).

    It could equally be argued that the Klee's unabated creativity was a more conscious opposition to the contemporaneous Nazi campaign being executed throughout Germany and the occupied territories, in which modern art was systematically banned, confiscated or destroyed on the grounds that it was Jewish, Communist or un-German. In 1937 Klee received news of the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition which opened in Munich in July of that year. This was the largest manifestation of Nazi cultural propaganda in which 650 paintings, sculptures and books were seized from the collections of 32 German museums and presented to the public. The exhibition (which included seventeen of Klee's own works) was designed to inspire contempt for what Goebbels termed 'the perverse Jewish spirit' that was infiltrating German culture, and to promote the idea that modernism was a conspiracy propagated by people who detested German civility.

    Yet, despite his terminal illness and the disturbing socio-political events of the day, Klee resisted concentrating on a few themes and forms of expression. Rather 'there is a broadening of flow...There are a great many new conceptions and advances in many directions, but gay or ironical works are almost completely lacking.' (W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, Stuttgart, 1954, p. 325). At the same time, Klee imbues the meanings of the late works with a lingering ambiguity, in which clear interpretations or definitions remain tantalisingly elusive. As C. Hopfengart & M. Baumgartner note, 'The titles of the works play a central role in the process of discovering meaning, often encapsulating dual meaning and inherent ambiguity. In the late works, they are – even more strongly than before – a result of the creative process. For the artist himself, the meaning of the painting lay in the moment of surprise when visual memory becomes associatively linked with language.' (C. Hopfengart & M. Baumgartner, op. cit., p. 316).

    This intrinsic ambiguity is reflected within Eine Schwärmende in which the German word 'Schwärmende' describes both a romanticising woman lost in a reverie and also a revelling party-goer. The work therefore encapsulates a semantic disconnect, simultaneously conjuring both riotous joy and a more lyrical, imaginative state – perhaps in some way reflecting Klee's own state of mind, poised between a melancholic acknowledgment of his approaching death and the sheer joy of his abounding creative energy.

    As if in protest to Hilter's pronouncements on the 'true' meaning of modern art, Klee deliberately eschews any clear reading of his late works. For Klee, truth appeared in transition and lay in the interstices of meaning and knowledge. A barely legible phrase inscribed in pencil at the corner of a large, unfinished painting which remained in Klee's studio at his death, aptly sums up the artist's enduring belief: 'Should everything be known after all? Ah, I think not!'. Similarly, the ceaseless output of Klee's final years was as much of a personal requiem in light of his terminal illness, as a deliberate refutation of the Nazi campaign to destroy modern art. As Klee's renowned Parisian dealer and prior owner of the present work, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, wrote 'It was just this late production which added a note of grandeur, not hitherto discernable, to Klee's work. Thus, the hero triumphs over evil and turns it to his own again' (D-H. Kahnweiler, Klee, Paris, 1950, p. 14).

    Indeed, it is interesting to note that Kahnweiler, even as Klee's dealer, decided to retain Eine Schwärmende for his personal collection until 1941, thus indicating a particular attachment to the work. Eine Schwärmende was later fittingly acquired by the celebrated collector Dr. Helmut Beck who, alongside his father Paul Beck, was staunchly opposed to the Nazi regime and was a significant patron and supporter of many modern artists whose work was labelled as 'degenerate'. Eine Schwärmende was to remain within Dr. Beck's private collection until his death in 2001.
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