Paul Klee (1879-1940, Swiss) was born in Münchenbuchsee (near Bern). His father was a music teacher and his mother a singer. At age 7, he started to play the violin; at age 8, his grandmother gave him some chalk with which to draw. Early on it became apparent that Klee was talented both in music and art. In his teenage years, Klee rebelled against his parents and chose to pursue a career in art instead of music and his first landscapes showed exceptional promise. In 1898, he began studying art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich where he excelled in drawing but doubted his ability to paint. After becoming friends with both Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, Klee joined Der Blaue Reiter, a group which Marc had founded. Klee experienced a break through with the use of color while visiting Tunisia in 1914. However, WWI was on the horizon, and he had to join the military. His art was affected by this experience, and especially by the deaths of his friends August Macke and Franz Marc. Klee managed to secure a teaching position at the German Bauhaus along with his friend Kandinsky in 1920. After the war his works sold well, but by the 30’s, it was marked as degenerate by the Nazis and 102 of his works were ceased.
Klee’s work cannot be categorized, as he used inventive methods and techniques that knew no restraints. Even so, many of his works can be associated with Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism and Abstraction.
Klee was a cat lover throughout his life, and cats are present in many of his works, photographs and letters. His first cat, Fritzi was a model for his works in the 1920’s. Bimbo I kept him company throughout his Bauhaus years, and Bimbo II accompanied him on his final journey to Switzerland. Nina Kandinsky in her memoir Kandinsky and I, writes about Klee’s love for cats. “Paul Klee adores cats, …In Dessau, his cat always looked out the window in the studio. I could see him perfectly from my private room. Klee told me the cat looked at me insistently: You can’t have any secrets. My cat will tell me all.” The cat on the windowsill was, of course, Bimbo. The American art collector Edward M.M. Warburg, while visiting Klee, noticed that the cat was starting to walk across a still wet watercolor and tried to prevent him from leaving its paw prints on the precious work. But Klee insisted that the cat be able to wander where he wanted. “Many years from now, one of your art connoisseurs will wonder how in the world I ever got that effect”, Klee laughingly explained. With Bimbo’s inspiration Klee produced as many as 28 works with cats.
Perhaps his most iconic cat painting is Cat and Bird (1928) in the Expressionist style. The cat is all head and the bird on his forehead indicates what he is thinking about. The red heart on the cat’s nose symbolizes his heart’s desire.
Another thought provoking painting is The Mountain of the Sacred Cat (1923). A pale cat stands out from the red and brown background. The mysterious expression on the cat’s face could almost be human. The cat looms large perhaps ascerting itself to be worshipped by the two smaller people in the foreground. Maybe this was Klee’s sense of humor, especially with the cat giving a whimsical triangular wink.
Klee suffered and died from a wasting disease, scleroderma, and is buried in Bern, Switzerland.