paul klee and adolf hitler -- 9/11/20

Today's selection -- from Paul Klee: Life and Work by Michael Baumgartner, Christine Hopfengart, Fabienne Eggelhöfer, Osamu Okuda, and Paul Klee. Paul Klee was an important artist of the early 20th century whose style reflected the influence of Surrealism, Cubism, and Expressionism. Born in Switzerland, he worked and taught in Germany and became a target of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party:
"On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor and the Nazi Party assumed governmental power in Germany. In many cities the event was marked with parades and torchlight processions and celebrated as the 'Day of National Rising.' Klee, who had watched the parades in Dessau, commented on the event with some concern -- though maintaining his typical witty, ironic manner -- when he wrote to Lily: 'For the present, a disagreeable feeling weighs on the stomach, as if a far too zackelfugige ["torchy," a play on the German word 'Fackelzug,' meaning torchlight procession], sparkling wine orgy had helped herald the new year of unified national Germany.' Klee had already depicted Adolf Hitler two years before in his drawing Stammtischler (Drinking Companion), 1931, 280, portraying him as a village politician. Klee detested Hitler -- but his disapproval resulted not just from political oppo­sition but also, and most of all, from his condescension, as artist and intellectual, toward primitive demagoguery and popu­list lust for power.


"Behind his contempt was a belief in art and its enduring values, as compared to the ephemeral nature of political changes. Although he was well aware that art's impact potential was low and that it would be a long time before it was 'regarded as history of culture and of art,' he conjectured that some day 'perhaps no one will be able to say anymore who exactly the great Hitler was without consulting an encyclo­pedia.' Klee's broadminded reasoning -- he evaded a more thorough analysis of the situation -- prompted him to come to terms with Hitler in a rather roundabout way: instead of directly approaching Hitler through his speeches and appearances, Klee explored the phenomenon of dictator in history, from antiquity to the present day. He read biographies about Hannibal and Napoleon; he also, however, drew parallels to his own private life by portraying his father as 'dictator.'

"Although Klee viewed the 'national movement' from an intellectual distance at first, it wasn't long before he realized the extent to which he was a central target of National Socialist attacks in Dusseldorf and that his position at the Kunstakademie was in jeopardy. As early as April 1, an article entitled 'Kunst-Sumpf in Westdeutschland' (Art Morass in West Germany) appeared in the National Socialist newspaper Rote Erde in which Klee was vehemently attacked: 'Then the great Klee arrives on the scene, already famous as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Dessau. He tells everyone he has pure Arab blood in his veins, but he's a typical Galician Jew. He paints in a wilder and wilder way; he bluffs and bewilders; his students gape, eyes and big mouths open wide; a new unheard-of art is entering the Rhineland.'

"Other newspaper articles of this type were published: 'They're cleaning up at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf,' urged the Fach­gruppe für bildende Kunst, Düsseldorf's professional group for the fine arts;  and the Düsseldorf Volksparole agitated against 'worn-out patronage.' The targets were always the Kunst­akademie under Kaesbach, Alfred Flechtheim as Jewish master­mind, and Klee as exponent of the very latest art.

"In Dessau, too, Klee found himself in the crosshairs of the National Socialists and was attacked in publications as a former member of the Bauhaus. And, far worse: during his absence his house was searched and personal documents confiscated. Following this first wave of personal attacks Klee knew he would probably lose his professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Although he negotiated for 'a different integration' into academy teaching activities, he refused to furnish proof of Aryan ancestry -- in 'anti­cipatory obedience' -- in order to save his skin. 'I'd rather accept some hardship than play the tragicomic figure courting the favor of those in power.'

"At the end of April 1933, Klee was suspended with immediate effect. Paradoxically, this coincided exactly with his final move from Dessau to Düsseldorf. Just when Klee was finally readying to settle down with his wife in Dusseldorf after nearly two years of living in temporary arrangements, he found himself stripped of his new foundations, and -- viewed in retrospect -- the fresh start was the beginning of Klee's end in Germany.

"With the National Socialists in charge, the public market for mod­ern art largely dissolved and Klee's art dealer, Alfred Flechtheim, who was Jewish, was subjected to particularly harsh Nazi attacks."



Paul Klee: Life and Work


Michael Baumgartner, Christine Hopfengart, Fabienne Eggelhöfer, Osamu Okuda, Paul Klee


Hatje Cantz


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