Paul Klee (Swiss, Münchenbuchsee, near Bern 1879 - 1940 Muralto, near Locarno)
The Kettledrum Organ (Die Paukenorgel), 1930
Signed lower left: Klee; dated on stretcher: 1930
Oil on paper board
12 1/2 x 16 1/2 in. (31.8 x 41.9 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1944
Paul Klee's Die Paukenorgel, painted during the artist's last year at the Bauhaus in Dessau, shows the influence of French Cubism, Bauhaus Constructivism, and the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and Lyonel Feiningger in its monochromatic composition of crystallized forms. The title and details place the largely abstract work in a musical context, and bear witness to the fact that Klee was as proficient and knowledgeable in music as he was in art.
Klee painted Die Paukenorgel in 1930, his last year at the Bauhaus in Dessau. In contrast with his earlier intuitive approach to artistic creation, at this time he was conducting planimetric and stereometric experiments into the geometric origins of form. Drawing on scientific data derived from contemporary physical, mathematical, psychological, and aesthetic research, he formulated a theory of pictorial space and its formal relationships and assembled a handbook of motifs.1 Almost obsessively, he drew endless diagrams in which he explored the kinetic variations and rhythms of structure by projecting geometric objects in space.2
As a result of these spatial studies Klee produced Constructivist drawings from 1930 on. The Kettledrum Organ appears to be based on these studies.3 In it Klee built up crystalline shapes with fine, dark spotting, shading, and hatching, and used the texture of the paperboard support to increase the three-dimensionality of the image.
Towards the upper center of the painting emerge two drumsticks topped with red and black balls, which, combined with the windup handle on the lower left side, illustrate the painting's subject, the kettledrum organ. (The original German title, Paukenorgel, actually refers to a calliope, a mechanical organ used in amusement fairs.) The implike figure in the lower center of the painting wears a pointed red cap and reaches out with one shadowy hand. This imp may represent the mechanical "soul" of the organ. On the other hand, he may be an ordinary jack-in-the-box, a humorous touch in a complex, somewhat cerebral composition. Klee's visual wit distinguishes his work from that of his Bauhaus peers.
In February 1931 Die Paukenorgal was purchased by the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie in Dessau, with funds provided by the city and its mayor, Fritz Hesse, for the purchase of modern art. Hesse and the museum director, Ludwig Grothe, were later sharply criticized by the National Socialists for their promotion of modern "degenerate" art, and were forced to resign from office in 1933. In 1937 Klee's painting was included in an exhibition of "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) in Dessau and--together with the entire collection of modern art--was confiscated from the museum. The Klee was sold in Berlin. Other works were either sold or destroyed.5
D. Hamburger, with contributions by M. E. Wieseman
Work (C) 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kust, Bonn
Born 18 December 1879 in Münchenbuchsee near Bern to the music teacher Hans Klee, Paul Klee showed equal talent for music and art early on. After finishing school in 1898, he studied at the private academy of Heinrich Knirr in Munich, and after 1900 at the academy with Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). With the sculptor Hermann Haller, Klee traveled in Italy between 1901 and 1902, and became engaged that same year to the pianist Lily Stumpf, whom he married in 1906; their son Felix was born in 1907. At first disappointed with his painterly effects, Klee concentrated on printmaking and drawing. In 1911 he met Vasilij Kandingsky and other members of the Blaue Reiter, with whom he exhibited in 1912. Although Kandinsky's work and the Orphism of Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) tempted Klee towards a return to color, he continued to concentrate on graphic work until 1914, when a trip to Tunis and Kairouan, where he experienced the Arabian architecture and the intense light, liberated him as a painter.6
In 1915 Klee was drafted into the German army and spent the war years at a Bavarian garrison, where he was able to create drawings and watercolors; his military duties included painting airplane wings. He exhibited his work at Hervarth Walden's Galerie der Sturm in 1913, and in exhibitions of the Neue Münchener Sezession in Munich. Klee had his first major show at the Gallery Hans Goltz in Munich in 1920, where 362 of his works were shown. Upon the invitation of Walter Gropius, he taught at the Bauhaus as "Master of Form" from 1921 until 1931,7 during which time he also traveled to France, Italy, and Egypt. In 1929 he was given major solo exhibitions at the Flechtheim Gallery in Berlin and at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1931 he began teaching at the Düsseldorf Academy, but was dismissed by the National Socialists in 1933. Klee then moved to Bern, where he remained very productive in spite of having developed scleroderma, from which he died on 29 June 1940. Although many of his works were confiscated from German collections in 1937, and seventeen were included in Hitler's Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition held in Munich, Klee's work continued to be shown in New York, Paris, and Zurich in 1938.
Huggler, Max, ed. Paul Klee. Part I: Dokumente und Bilder aus den Jahren 1896-1930, Bern-Bümpliz, 1949. Part II: Bilder und Zeichnungen aus den Jahren 1930-1940, Bern-Bümpliz, 1960.
Klee, Felix, ed. Tagebücher. Vol. 1 (1893-1906); vol. 2 (1907-1940). Cologne, 1957.
Klee, Felix, ed. Leben und Werk in Dokumenten. Zurich, 1960.
Kornfeld, Eberhard. Verzeichnis der graphischen Werke von Paul Klee. Bern, 1963.
Gelhaar, Christian. Paul Klee und das Bauhaus. Cologne, 1972.
Glaesemer, Jürgen. Paul Klee: Handzeichnungen. Vol. 1, Kindheit bis 1920, Bern, 1973. Vol. 2, 1921-1936, Bern, 1984. Vol. 3, 1937-1940, Bern, 1979.
Gelhaar, Christian. Paul Klee. Leben und Werk. Cologne, 1974.
Klee, Felix, ed. Briefe an die Familie. Cologne, 1979.
Jordan, Jim. Paul Klee and Cubism. Princeton, 1984.
Regel, Günther, ed. Kunstlehre: Aufsätze, Vorträge, Rezensionen und Beiträge zurbildnerischen Formenlehre. Leipzig, 1987.
Spiller, Jurg, ed. Paul Klee Notebooks. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Vol. 1, The Thinking Eye. Vol. 2, The Nature of Nature. Woodstock, N.Y., 1992.
Purchased by the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, Dessau, in February 1931, for 2000 RM
Confiscated by the National Socialists, 1937 (inv. 10922)
Purchased by Karl Buchholz in Berlin, 18 February 1939, for $120
With Buchholz Galleries, New York, from whom purchased in 1944
Dessau, Palais Reina, 1937. Entartete Kunst. Fall. No cat.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 75.
Bern, Kunstmuseum, 1956. Paul Klee. 11 August - 4 November. Cat. no. 602.
Hamburger, Kunstverein, 1956-57. Paul Klee. 2 December - 27 January. Cat. no. 265.
Minneapolis, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, 1958. Music and Art. 4 April - 18 May (also shown at Grand Rapids Art Museum). No cat.
The Denver Art Museum, 1963. Paul Klee in Review. 7 April - 7 May. Cat. no. 32.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1967. Paul Klee: A Retrospective. February - July. Cat. no. 114.
Basel, Kunsthalle, 1967. Paul Klee. 3 June - 13 August. Cat. no. 119.
Des Moines Art Center, 1973. Paul Klee: The Bauhaus Years. 18 September - 28 October. No cat.
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, 1974. Homage à Schönberg. 11 September - 4 November. Cat. no. 65.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with the permanent collection. April 1975 - December 1976. No cat.
Cologne, Kunsthalle, 1979. Paul Klee: Das Werk der Jahre 1919-1933, Gemalde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik. 11 April - 4 June. Cat. no. 310.
Purchase, N. Y., Neuberger Museum, State University at Purchase, 1981. Soundings. 20 September - 23 December. Cat. p. 40.
Anhalt im Dienste des Führers. Dessau, 1937, p. 70 ill.
Grohmann, Will. Paul Klee. New York, 1954, p. 398, cat. no. 112.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 94-95, fig. 131.
Homage à Schönberg. Exh. cat., Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1974. Cat. no. 65.
Soundings. Exh. cat., Neuberger Museum, State University, Purchase, N.Y., 1981, p. 40, ill.p. 39.
Hünecke, Andreas. "'Weg mit Zwitschermaschine & Paukenorgel!' Paul Klee und die Aktion 'Entartete Kunst'." In Paul Klee, Vorträge der wissenschaftlichen Konferenz in Dresden 19. und 20. Dezember 1984. Dresden, 1985, pp. 65-70.
The support is paperboard, probably composed of a pulp core covered with surface plies of rag. The board was tacked onto a wooden stretcher before painting, and the verso coated with a heavy, uneven layer of white paint. The white ground is generally smooth and has been incised in some areas to create surface variation and design lines. The paint is generally thin and evenly applied and remains quite transparent over the ground. It may have been applied with a stencil.
Small areas of inpainting are scattered throughout. Covering the surface of the painting is widespread drying crackle; this condition originated shortly after the painting was completed and has not changed markedly since. Although no cleavage is apparent at present, some paint islands have slightly curled edges. Otherwise the condition of the painting is good and generally sound.
1. See Tony Müller, Willi Brausen, and Wilfried Genniges, Paul Klee: Das Werk der Jahre 1919-1933, Gemalde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik (exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Cologne, 1979), p. 55.
2. Christian Gelhaer (Paul Klee and the Bauhaus [Greenwich, Conn., 1975], p. 14) referred to these studies as "the ultimate radical realization of his theoretical standpoint."
3. Nearly identical, but for the absence of the humor, to Die Paukenorgel is the watercolor Kristallisation (1930; 31.2 x 32.1 cm, Berlin, Kunstmuseum, Paul Klee-Stiftung); reproduced in Tony Müller, Willi Brausen, and Wilfried Genniges, Paul Klee: Das Werk der Jahre 1919-1933, Gemalde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik (exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Cologne, 1979), cat. no. 343.
4. Even in 1917, when his worst fears had been realized, Kirchner continued to carve woodcuts.
5. Information from Margit Schermuck-Ziesché, in a letter dated 23 September 1997; see also Andrea Hüneke, "'Weg mit Zwitschermaschine & Paukenorgel!' Paul Klee und die Aktion 'Entartete Kunst'," in Paul Klee, Vorträge der wissenschaftlichen Konferenz in Dresden 19. und 20. Dezember 1984 (Dresden, 1985), pp. 65-70.
6. As he wrote in almost ecstatic, mystical terms in his diary: "Die Farbe hat mich. Ich brauche nicht mehr nach ihr zu haschen. Sie hat mich für immer, ich weiß das. Das ist der glücklichen Stunde Sinn: ich und die Farbe sind eins. Ich bin Maler." [Color possesses me. I no longer need to try and catch/grasp it. It possesses me for ever, I know that. This is the meaning of this happy hour: I and color are one. I am a painter.] Quoted from Paul Vogt, Geschichte der deutschen Malerei im 20.Jahrhundert (Cologne, 1989), p. 121.
7. Inspired by his teaching, Klee published his Pädogogisches Skizzenbuch in 1925, an important source for the artist's thinking on art.