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Paul Klee, Fish Magic

Paul Klee, Fish Magic
Paul Klee, Fish Magic, 1925, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Wikimedia Commons

Painting of the Week

Paul Klee, Fish Magic

When I was a child, my parents bought a poster showing a reproduction of a warmly-colored painting with two small camels and a donkey lost in a composition of abstract rectangles. It turned out to be Paul Klee. It was with these camels that my continuing fascination for the magic world of weird creatures living in Klee’s paintings began.

Paul Klee, Fish Magic

Paul Klee, Fish Magic, 1925, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Wikimedia Commons

Paul Klee was born to a musicians’ family on 18th December 1879 in a small Swiss town near Bern. Both the picturesque Alpine landscape and musical traditions had a great impact on his future works. At first he was supposed to be a musician but he eventually decided on visual arts. At the age of 21, he moved to Munich, Germany to study at the Academy of Fine Arts.

What is absolutely surprising is that in the early years of his career Klee was strongly focused on drawing, leaving the colours marginalized. He wasn’t very successful until 1911 when he joined the editorial team of the almanac Der Blaue Reiter, founded by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. The association of Expressionistic artists finally opened Klee up to the color theory. Moreover, a trip to Paris exposed him to the ferment of Cubism and early Abstract Art, leaving Klee fascinated by Robert Delaunay’s bold use of color.

Paul Klee, Fish Magic

Paul Klee, Two Camels and a Donkey, 1919. Detail


All these experiences prepared a solid ground for his artistic breakthrough, which came up during his travel to Tunisia. He wrote, “Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever… Color and I are one. I am a painter.”

After returning home, his style took a completely new direction. He started to mix techniques – he enriched his wide graphics experience with a new palette of vivid colors, simultaneously moving towards an abstract manner of painting. That’s how Klee’s unique style was born and opened him the doors to a great career. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from January 1921 to April 1931, when the times got dark and uneasy and his art began to be considered as degenerate by the Nazis. Soon he had to flee back to Switzerland.

Paul Klee, Fish Magic

Paul Klee, Fish Magic, 1925, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Wikimedia Commons. Detail


As we can read on the Philadelphia Museum of Art website, in Fish Magic Paul Klee creates a magical realm where the aquatic, the celestial, and the earthly intermingle. A delicate black surface covers an underlayer of colors which the artist revealed by scratching and scrawling designs in the black paint. At the center of the painting, a square of muslin is glued onto the canvas. A long diagonal line reaching to the top of the clock tower is poised as if to whisk off this subtle curtain.

What I personally highly value in art is great imagination, dry humor, a bit of childlike perspective, mixed techniques, neon-like colors and a little mystery. Paul Klee’s Fish Magic has it all.

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…or buy a poster my parents did:

DailyArt Magazine Editor-in-Chief finishing her PhD in art history; editor, writer, stylist and adamant traveller almost constantly on the way

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