The Work: Cat and Bird
The Artist: Paul Klee
Cat and Bird, 1928
by Paul Klee
Oil and ink on gessoed canvas, mounted on wood
15 x 21" (38.1 x 53.2 cm)
Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund and gift of Suzy Prudden and Joan H. Meijer in memory of F. H. Hirschland
Klee was one of the many modernist artists who wanted to practice what he called "the pure cultivation of the means" of painting—in other words, to use line, shape, and color for their own sake rather than to describe something visible. That priority freed him to create images dealing less with perception than with thought, so that the bird in this picture seems to fly not in front of the cat's forehead but inside it–the bird is literally on the cat's mind. Stressing this point by making the cat all head, Klee concentrates on thought, fantasy, appetite, the hungers of the brain. One of his aims as an artist, he said, was to "make secret visions visible."
The cat is watchful, frighteningly so, but it is also calm, and Klee's palette too is calm, in a narrow range from tawny to rose with zones of bluish green. This and the suggestion of a child's drawing lighten the air. Believing that children were close to the sources of creativity, Klee was fascinated by their art, and evokes it here through simple lines and shapes: ovals for the cat's eyes and pupils (and, more loosely, for the bird's body), triangles for its ears and nose. And the tip of that nose is a red heart, a sign of the cat's desire.
Paul Klee was a Swiss-German painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism.
Adam and Little Eve, 1921
by Paul Klee
Watercolor and transferred printing ink on paper; 12 3/8 x 8 5/8 in. (31.4 x 21.9 cm)
The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1987 (1987.455.7)
In this watercolor, Klee somewhat expanded the story of the creation of man. His Eve, after growing from Adam's rib, stays right there. She also remains a child. Evchen ("Little Eve") looks like a schoolgirl with flaxen hair tied in a braid. Adam is a broad-faced, grown man who sports earrings and a mustache. By placing the figures against a shallow ground with a reddish curtain, Klee seems to set the oddly matched pair on a puppet-theater stage.
< Paul Klee
Born: December 18, 1879, Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland
Died: June 29, 1940, Muralto, Switzerland
Colleagues: Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke, Lyonel Feininger, Alexej von Jawlensky
Children: Felix Paul
Paul was a Swiss-German painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism.
Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, on December 18, 1879. The son of a music teacher, Klee was a talented violinist, receiving an invitation to play with the Bern Music Association at age 11.
As a teenager, Klee’s attention turned from music to the visual arts. In 1898, he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. By 1905, he had developed signature techniques, including drawing with a needle on a blackened pane of glass. Between 1903 and 1905, he completed a set of etchings called Inventions that would be his first exhibited works.
Rise to Prominence
In 1906, Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf. The couple had a son, Felix Paul. Klee’s artwork progressed slowly for the next five years. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which subsequently traveled to three Swiss cities.
In January 1911, Klee met art critic Alfred Kubin, who introduced him to artists and critics. That winter, Klee joined the editorial team of the journal Der Blaue Reiter, co-founded by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. He began working on color experiments in watercolors and landscapes, including the painting In the Quarry.
Klee’s artistic breakthrough came in 1914, after a trip to Tunisia. Inspired by the light in Tunis, Klee began to delve into abstract art. Returning to Munich, Klee painted his first pure abstract, In the Style of Kairouan, composed of colored rectangles and circles.
Klee’s work evolved during World War I, particularly following the deaths of his friends Auguste Macke and Franz Marc. Klee created several pen-and-ink lithographs, including Death for the Idea, in reaction to this loss. In 1916, he joined the German army, painting camouflage on airplanes and working as a clerk.
By 1917, art critics began to classify Klee as one of the best young German artists. A three-year contract with dealer Hans Goltz brought exposure as well as commercial success.
Klee taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931, alongside his friend Kandinsky. In 1923, Kandinsky and Klee formed the Blue Four with two other artists, Alexej von Jawlensky and Lyonel Feininger, and toured the United States to lecture and exhibit work. Klee had his first exhibits in Paris around this time, finding favor with the French surrealists.
Klee began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy in 1931. Two years later, he was fired under Nazi rule. The Klee family moved to Switzerland in late 1933. Klee was at the peak of his creative output during this tumultuous period. He produced nearly 500 works in a single year and created Ad Parnassum, widely considered to be his masterpiece.