Swiss painter and graphic artist, one of the most imaginative and prolific of twentieth-century masters. Working in many styles, both representational and abstract, by his teaching and his work he profoundly influenced twentieth century art.
The son of a Swiss mother and a German father, Klee left Bern to study art in Munich at the age of nineteen. His early drawings and etchings were in an expressionist style containing elements of fantasy and satire. In the early 1900s he came into contact with many of the influential artists of the period, including Kandinsky, who involved him in the Blaue Reiter group in 1912. In 1914 a visit to Tunisia stimulated a new awareness of colour and he began to concentrate on painting. His paintings, mainly on paper or small canvases, have a childlike quality that masks the sophistication of his work. Though the rhythms and forms of his pictures were often based on remembered impressions, his was an art of free fantasy. He once described his drawing method as ‘taking a line for a walk.’
After serving in the German army in World War I, Klee achieved an international reputation by 1920 and in that year was invited to join the faculty of the Bauhaus. In 1924 he had his first US exhibition in New York and in 1925 the Bauhaus published his influential Pedagogical Sketchbook. He left the Bauhaus in 1931 to teach at the Düsseldorf Academy but in 1933 the Nazis forced him out of this post and in 1937 they included his works in their notorious Exhibition of Degenerate Art. Klee by this time had moved to Bern, where he suffered from depression and became increasingly ill. Although not all his paintings lost their earlier lightness of tone, the themes of corruption and malevolence together with darker colours and heavier lines predominated in the last seven years of his life.