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The Making of Paul Klee’s Career, 1914-1920

Paul Klee—one of the preeminent artists of the twentieth century—was associated with all of the major movements of the first half of the century: expressionism, cubism, surrealism, and abstraction. In this economic and political history, O. K. Werckmeister traces Klee’s career as a professional artist, concentrating on the years 1914-20 in which Klee rose from obscurity to recognition in the visual culture of the incipient Weimar Republic. Werckmeister reveals the degree to which Klee, who has been traditionally portrayed as aloof from politics and the vicissitudes of the art market, was subject to and interacted with material conditions.

Drawing on rich documentary evidence—records of Klee’s sales, reviews of his exhibitions, the artist’s published writings about his art, unpublished correspondence, as well as contemporary criticism—Werckmeister follows Klee’s transformation from an idiosyncratic abstract individualist to a metaphysical storyteller to mystical sage. Werckmeister argues that this latter image was promoted by a number of influential art critics and dealers acting in cooperation with the artist himself. This posture prompted Klee’s success first in the war-weary modernist art world of 1916-18 and then in the pseudo-revolutionary art world of 1919-20.

This work is a critical challenge to the myth of Klee’s art and to the hagiography of his artistic personality. Werckmeister’s historical account is sure to be a controversial yet significant contribution to Klee studies—one that will change the nature of Klee scholarship for some time to come.

343 pages | 125 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 1984, 1989

Art: European Art

Table of Contents


Success and Socialization
Klee and the Klee Literature
Oeuvre and History
Klee’s Diaries
From Diaries to Publications
Toward Radical Historicity
The Scope of This Book

Chapter One - 1914
The Slump of the German Art Market
Klee’s Initial Attitude toward the War
Klee’s First Images of War
The Lithographs for the Zeit-Echo

Chapter Two - 1915
The Incipient Recovery of the German Art Market
Klee’s Stance of Withdrawal from the War
The Controversy about the Spring Exhibition of the New Munich Secession
The Literary Formulation of the New Stance in the Diary
"Crystalline" Images of 1915
The Debate with Marc

Chapter Three - 1916
The Upsurge of the German Art Market
The Pacifist Revalidation of Expressionism
Klee’s Conscription
Walden’s Commemoration of Marc and Promotion of Klee
Klee’s First Sturm Exhibition
Klee’s New Exhibition Strategies
Klee’s Text on Marc
The Transfer to the Airfield at Schleissheim
The Lithograph Destruction and Hope

Chapter Four - 1917
The Boom in the German Art Market
Klee’s Sturm Exhibition of January 1917
Cultural World Peace
The First Slowdown of Sales
The New Concept of Illustrative Painting
The Theme of Birds and Airplanes
The Sales Slump
The Sturm Picture Book

Chapter Five - 1918
The German Art Market under the Luxury Tax
The Turn to Religion
New Versions of the Airplane Crash
Exhibition Strategies of 1918
Birds of Inspiration and Birds on the Ground
Klee’s Cooperation with Hausenstein on a Book about Him
The Essay "Graphic Art"
Preparations for the Sturm Exhibition of January 1919
The Total of Klee’s Sales during the War
The Memory of War

Chapter Six - 1919, During the Revolution
The Realignment of the German Art Market
Klee’s Illustrations for Corrinth’s Potsdamer Platz
The Artists’ Councils of Munich
Klee’s First Contribution to the Münchner Blätter
Klee in Der Weg
Klee’s Second Contribution in the Münchner Blätter
The Invitations to the Artists’ Councils

Chapter Seven - 1919, After the Revolution
The Escape to Switzerland and the Letter to Kubin
The Self-Portrait Absorption
Klee’s Show in the New Munich Secession
Klee’s Efforts at Professional Security
The Political Defense of the New Munich Secession Show
The Klee Issue of the Münchner Blätter
The Hand-Colored Lithograph Absorption
The General Sales Contract with Goltz
The Publication of Creative Confession
The Failure of the Appointment to the Stuttgart Academy
The Last Issue of the Münchner Blätter

Chapter Eight - 1920
The Inflationary Upsurge of the German Art Market
The First Monographs on Klee
Airplane Crash and Angelus Novus
The Call to the Bauhaus

"Scenes in the Department Store"
"From the Museum, We Were Watching"


Texts by Paul Klee
Secondary Literature
Other Works Repeatedly Cited
Archival Sources


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