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Born into a family of musicians on December 18, 1879 in Switzerland, Paul Klee’s childhood love of music remained profoundly important in his life and work. From 1898 to 1901, Klee studied in Munich at Kunstakademie under Franz von Stuck. Upon completing his schooling, he traveled to Italy in the first of a series of trips abroad that nourished his visual sensibilities. He settled in Bern in 1902.
A series of his satirical etchings was exhibited at the Munich Secession in 1906, the same year that he married Lily Stumpf, a pianist, and moved to Munich. Here he gained exposure to Modern Art, meeting Alexej von Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke, Franz Marc, and other avant-garde figures. He participated in important shows of ‘advanced’ art, including the second Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1912 and the Erste Deutsche Herbstsalon at the Der Sturm Gallery, Berlin, in 1913. On a visit to Paris in 1912, he saw the work of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and met Robert Delaunay.
Back in Munich, Klee helped found the Neue Münchner Secession in 1914. That year colour became central to his art after a revelatory trip to Tunisia with August Macke and Louis Molliet. He was so overwhelmed by the intense light there that he wrote: "Colour has taken possession of me; 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. Colour and I are one. I am a painter."
The year 1920 was a busy one for Klee: a major retrospective was held at the Galerie Hans Goltz in Munich, his Schöpferische Konfession was published and he was appointed to the faculty of the Bauhaus where he taught until its closure in 1931. During his tenure, he was in close contact with other Bauhaus masters like Kandinsky and Feininger. In 1924, the Blaue Vier, consisting of Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Klee was founded.
His reputation spread widely in the 1920s as he had his first show in the United States at the Société Anonyme, New York, in 1924 and his first major show in Paris the following year. By 1930, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a Klee retrospective.
Forced by the Nazis to leave his position at the Düsseldorf Akademie in 1933, Klee returned to Bern, where he was diagnosed with the crippling disease, scleroderma, which forced him to develop a simpler style. Major Klee exhibitions took place in Bern and Basel in 1935 and in Zurich in 1940. Seventeen of his works were included in the Nazi exhibition of “degenerate art,” Entartete Kunst, in 1937.
Klee died on June 29, 1940, in Muralto-Locarno, Switzerland.