In the years leading up to the First World War there was a mood of elation in the air. Not least for Paul Klee, who was established in the Munich avant-garde as a member of the artist’s group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), and who had discovered Cubism in Paris.

His trip to Tunisia in the spring of 1914 impelled him in the direction of abstraction. For Klee, the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 seemed at first like a severe setback. His artistic milieu suddenly dissolved: many of his friends went to war or into exile. Klee remained behind on his own in Munich.

In March 1916, at the age of 36, Klee was conscripted as a soldier of the German Reich. He was spared the horror of the front, and spent most of his military service on military airfields, often behind a desk. That way he was able to advance his artistic work even during the war. The artist commented on his life as a soldier in his diary and in letters with startlingly ironic detachment. In spite of the terrible events of the war, the years from 1914 until 1918 proved to be a very fertile time for Klee. He discovered new materials, such as the cloth of aeroplane wings, and new tools such as the stencils with which he had to paint aeroplanes. He developed his work further in a formal sense, opened up new subjects and creative media and delved further into those he had already tried out. The exhibition looks at central aspects of his work which originate during this time, and pursues their development into later periods of his career.

Throughout those years – in the middle of the war – Klee experienced his artistic breakthrough, and between 1916 and 1918 he became a cult figure among young artists. During the last years of the war and the years that followed, his artistic successes were rewarded with numerous exhibitions, rising sales prices and publications. After the end of the war he was politically involved in the communist Munich Soviet Republic, which only lasted for a short time. Klee repeatedly portrayed himself as the dreamily remote, unworldly artist – as he is also perceived today. The exhibition shows a different side of Klee: as an eye witness who picked up political, cultural and social changes and reworked them in his art.