For the first time, Paul Klee and his impressive circle of friends are being presented in an extensive exhibition with works from the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Zentrum Paul Klee.
Throughout his life, Paul Klee cultivated relationships with a multitude of artist colleagues. These reciprocal encounters made their mark on the artists’ thought and work in a variety of ways. Alongside works by Klee from the collection of the Zentrum Paul Klee, the exhibition encompasses a selection of work by renowned artists from the Kunstmuseum Bern. Their paths crossed with that of Klee and their friendships were defined by both individual destiny as well as political changes.
Since 1906, Klee had been living in the Munich artist’s quarter of Schwabing. After years of working in isolation, 1912 became a key year for Klee’s integration in the art world. While visiting his boyhood friend Louis Moilliet in Gunten on Lake Thun the previous summer, in 1911, Klee had already made the acquaintance of August Macke. In April 1914, the three artists made a study trip to Tunisia, which represents a milestone in Klee’s artistic development. When the First World War broke out a few months later, Macke was drafted. He fell in battle the same year.
For years, Klee had lived in close proximity to Wassily Kandinsky in Munich. But it was not until October 1911 that he finally met Kandinsky – also through Louis Moilliet. This new acquaintanceship eventually led to Klee’s participation in the Second Exhibition of the Editors of the Blue Rider as well as to meeting Franz Marc. Letters and postcards testify to their deep, affectionate bond, which came to an end with Marc’s early death on the battlefield in 1916. Kandinsky, however, had had to leave the country when the war began in 1914 because he was a Russian national. He reconnected with Klee at the Bauhaus in 1922 and 1925, the old friends lived next door to each other at the Masters’ Houses in Dessau.
The Munich circle also included the Russians Alexej Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin. The Klees met them during that fateful year of 1912 as well. They were often guests at Jawlensky and Werefkin’s “Pink Salon,” in which they regularly hosted soirées with music and discussion. Franz Marc facilitated Klee’s meeting with Sonia and Robert Delaunay in Paris in April 1912. In Delaunay’s studio, he discovered the abstract colour compositions of Orphic Cubism. Hans Arp met Klee in the summer of 1912; they visited each other in Bern and Weggis. Their works are on display in the second exhibition of the Moderne Bund in Zürich, about which Klee wrote a review in the journal Die Alpen.
Klee first discovered the work of Pablo Picasso in 1912 at exhibitions in Munich as well as in the Parisian art galleries. In 1933, Klee called on Picasso in his Paris studio, and Picasso returned the visit in 1937 when he travelled to Klee’s home in Bern. Although they had different personalities, there are significant points of overlap between their work.
The selection on view in this exhibition stands in for the multitude of relationships with other artists that Klee cultivated throughout his life. It demonstrates how central Klee’s engagement with their art, which spans the movements of Expressionism and Surrealism, Cubism and Concrete art, was for his artistic development.