Paul Klee: 1939

Text by Dawn Ades. Poetry by Richard Tuttle 

The year before he died, in what was one of the most difficult yet prolific periods of his life, Paul Klee created his most surprising and innovative works.

In 1939, the year before his death from a long illness and against a backdrop of sociopolitical turmoil and the outbreak of World War II, Paul Klee worked with a vigor and inventiveness that rivaled even the most productive periods of his youth. This book illuminates the artist’s response to his personal difficulties and the era’s broader realities through imagery that is tirelessly inventive—by turns political, solemn, playful, humorous, and poetic.

The works featured testify to Klee’s restless drive to experiment with form and material. His use of adhesive, grease, oil, chalk, and watercolor, among other media, resulted in surfaces that are not only visually striking, but also highly tactile and original. Not unlike a diary, the drawings are often meditative reflections on the pains and pleasures of life—their titles, among them Monsters in readiness and Struggles with himself, signal Klee’s frame of mind. 

Renowned art historian Dawn Ades looks at this group of paintings and drawings in the context of their time and as indicative of a pivotal moment in art history. Moved by this late period of Klee’s oeuvre, American artist Richard Tuttle responds to specific works in the form of a dialogical poem. This stunning publication highlights the novelty and ingenuity of Klee’s late works, which deeply affected the generation of artists—including Anni Albers, Jean Dubuffet, Mark Tobey, and Zao Wou-Ki—that emerged after World War II and continues to captivate artists and viewers alike today.



Publisher: David Zwirner Books

Artists: Paul Klee

Contributors: Dawn Ades, Richard Tuttle

Designer: Practise (James Goggin & Shan James)

Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona

Publication Date: 2021

Binding: Hardcover

Dimensions: 8.75 × 11 in | 22.2 × 27.9 cm

Pages: 144

Reproductions: 83

ISBN: 9781644230381

Retail: $60 | $80 CAN | £45

Status: Available

Paul Klee

Paul Klee was born as a German citizen in Münchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland, in 1879. In 1911, he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. In the same year, he met fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky and became acquainted with the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), exhibiting with them at their second show in 1912. Later that year, after becoming familiar with the art of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Robert Delaunay during a trip to Paris, Klee began incorporating cubist and other innovative colorist techniques and ideas into his own distinct practice. Two years later, in 1914, Klee traveled to Tunisia with his friends, the artists August Macke and Louis Moilliet, a revelatory experience that the artist credits with further awakening him to color. In 1921, he was appointed to the faculty of the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius, the founder and first director of the school, where he taught and worked as a “form master” from 1921 to 1925, while the school was in Weimar, and as a professor from 1926 to 1931, when the school was located in Dessau.

Dawn Ades

Dawn Ades is professor emerita of the history and theory of art at the University of Essex and professor of the history of art at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 2013, she was made CBE for services to higher education. 

Richard Tuttle

Richard Tuttle’s often poetic objects defy genre through exploration of material form. Sometimes, Tuttle crafts fragile assemblages of unassuming materials, like paper wire, string, and cloth. While trespassing constraints of framing, Tuttle manages to investigate the potential of line, activating marginal space whose volume becomes expressive too. Like Paul Klee, Tuttle draws upon the other-than-conscious and the richness of the overlooked. A book of Tuttle’s collected writings from 1966 to 2019, A Fair Sampling, was published by Walther König in 2020.