October 22, 2017

MODERN ART & DESIGN AUCTION

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Lot 135: Paul Klee

Lot 135: Paul Klee

Ein Komet am Horizont Einer Stadt (A Comet on the Horizon of a Town)

1918
Ink and watercolor on paper mounted to card
Signed upper right sheet; titled with date inscription "1918/200" lower right mount
Composition/sheet: 5.75" x 6.375"; Mount (vis.): 8.5" x 7.75"; Frame: 17.5" x 16.375"; (Composition/sheet: 15 x 16 cm)
Provenance: Willy Hahn, Stuttgart, Germany; Berggruen & Cie, Paris, France (acquired directly from the above, 1958); Private Collection, Hollywood, California (acquired directly from the above, c. 1958)
Illustrated: Paul Klee Catalogue Raisonné. Vol. II. J. Helfenstein, ed. 2000. #2047.

Literature: Paul Klee: Das bildnerische Denken. J. Spiller. 1956. 322.
Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000
Price Realized: $156,250
Inventory Id: 26135

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MORE INFORMATION:

In the spring of 1914 Swiss-German artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) embarked on an extended trip to Tunisia with fellow expressionist artists August Macke and Louis Moilliet, who, like Klee, were associated with the avant-garde Blaue Reiter group. The voyage would prove pivotal to each of the artists' subsequent work, but it was particularly critical to that of Klee. The journey deeply affected Klee, sparking a turning point in his approach to his practice, which would move towards a focus on developing the arcane, highly symbolic pictorial language for which he is now best known. Tunisia's rich cultural heritage ignited an already simmering interest in mysticism for the artist, while the vibrant, color-saturated North African landscape inspired him to expand his profound infatuation with the language of color, which he would subsequently deploy as a form of pure abstraction, independent of physical description. "Color has taken hold of me," he wrote in his journal while in Tunisia. "No longer do I have to chase after it. I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment. Color and I are one. I am a painter."

Two years later, in 1916, Klee was drafted for the army during the First World War. Although he never saw the front line from his clerical position at a flight school, his tenure in the army sparked a keen interest in flight and the cosmos. From 1916-1918, Klee, like the rest of the western world at the time, would become briefly infatuated with all things celestial, producing a body of work that looked upwards for inspiration. With a massive war afoot, rapid advances in aircraft technologies followed suit, sending troops into the air in balloons and planes, forming entirely new constellations in a sky that was in turn becoming more familiar and fantastic due to an increase in scientific breakthroughs that looked to the cosmos.

During this time Klee produced a series of watercolors centered on comets, including his 1917 work Landschaft mit dem Kometen, as well as Der Komet von Paris, and Ein Komet am Horizont einer Stadt (Lot 135). However, the artist who would famously assert that "art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible," took no conventional approach to the cosmos. "Art is a simile of the Creation," he once asserted. "Each work of art is an example, just as the terrestrial is an example of the cosmic." Klee's comets are indeed comets, but, like the visual language present in his other works, they are also highly charged, mystical symbols pointing to something beyond their physicality.

At first glance it may appear that works such as Ein Komet am Horizont einer Stadt (Lot 135) differ greatly from the artist's later works, given that they reproduce actual, physical phenomena, rather than allowing symbols as varied as hieroglyphs and musical notations to stand in and, to Klee's mind, more perfectly represent an actual person or event. Yet, in his early comet works we already find Klee working from subjects rooted in a reality which he distills to its most essential elements, a practice that would further evolve in later works, such as his 1925 drawing Das Gartentor (The Garden Gate) (Lot 136) and his 1932 etching Was Läuft Er? (Why Does He Run? ) (Lot 137), each of which hinges on the contours produced by a series of severely reduced, deliberate lines. Although the comets in earlier works are clearly discernable, true to Klee, they also operate as potent symbols pointing to the concepts of transcendence and evanescence underpinning the principles of mysticism and transcendentalism that fascinated Klee throughout his life. A comet, after all, is a perfect embodiment of evanescence.

Klee, Paul. Creative Credo. 1920.
Spretnak, Charlene, The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present, Springer, 2014.

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