Paul Klee is a famous Surrealist painter, regarded by the Nazis as a degenerate artist. Born on December 18, 1879, in Munchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland, Klee enters the most prestigious art school in Germany, the Munich Academy, at the age of 21. Shortly thereafter, he moves to Munich and travels throughout Europe studying impressionist artwork and incorporating color into his work far more than in previous years. In 1910 he gets his own private exhibition in Bern, and from this point on he works with such artists as Wassily Kandinsky and August Macke. In 1916 his works become extremely desirable to the public.
At this point he returns to Munich and has a huge exhibition, displaying 362 of his works. Klee then is admitted to the Bauhaus to teach art, until he comes down with scleroderma in 1936 and dies in 1940. Destroyed Place, an oil painting on cardboard, surrounded with silver, by Paul Klee, now resides in Lenbachhaus, a museum in Munich, Germany. This painting was completed in 1920, and is very mysterious in both meaning and appearance. The top of the painting is bright and calm, rather than destroyed. It soon becomes very dark, depicting the scary setting of the painting, due to the death and destruction which previously occurred at the sight of the painting.
The cross atop the hill in the background of the painting is suggestive of the burial site of Jesus Christ. The other crosses scattered across the painting reinforce the theme of death through their repetitive use in the painting. The foreground of this painting is at the bottom where the green hump is a gravestone, and the two hands are anthropomorphic. The triangular shape on the right side of the painting suggests that something is emerging from the ground. Perhaps it is going to evolve into something not similar to the two hands of people killed in the First World War coming back from the dead.
The cruciform iconography greatly suggests the destruction that occurred during World War I, while the cross in the window of the main building indicates that all of the windows had crosses in them until they were destroyed in the war, as well as that it was a place of worship. Remains of some of the crosses can be seen in the windows, along with the red coloring, suggestive of blood or fire. The two other buildings in the painting are not standing upright, indicating further destruction beyond what is included within the painting. The theme of this particular painting by Klee is primarily dark throughout this painting, with the occasional red paint, suggestive exclusively of the violence prevalent at the site of the painting.
This effectively reinforces the sense of a destroyed place, hence the title of the painting. This painting, along with others from around 1920, demonstrates a mastery of elegant color synchronization used by Klee to create semiabstract compositions such as this piece, which also demonstrates his use of individualism, surrealism and atmospheric perspective. Klee, much like Kandinsky, his colleague at Bauhaus, turns away from nature in his art, while continuing to be a surrealist. Surrealism is art in which one paints complex symbols, such as the hand and the gravestone in Destroyed Place, and observers must analyze the piece and these abstract and complex symbols integrated into the painting in order to understand the intended meaning of the piece.
This piece is dissimilar to many of Klees other pieces, in that he does not use cubism throughout his entire painting. Rather than using cubism, and painting with intersecting lines and many other shapes, Klee is attempting, in this painting, to replicate an actual scene of destruction. This piece has a true meaning, unlike many of his other abstract pieces. This piece integrates some of the qualities of old paintings used by painters as far back as the Renaissance period of art.
These qualities include individualism and atmospheric perspective. Individualism, or the value of being an individual, and reflections of ones beliefs, is portrayed greatly in this piece. Klee, a resident of Germany, did not approve of the deaths occurring throughout his home country during the Great War, and painted this piece in order to demonstrate his feelings toward those who died, and to let others know about the destruction occurring in this war. Atmospheric perspective is used very effectively in this painting at the point where the gravestone looks very large, and the colors brighten a bit, signifying that the destruction is not personally affecting those observing the painting. The path leading to the house, however, demonstrates that the destruction is not far away, and anybody could very easily travel down this path and encounter destruction and death.
Bibliography: Harden, Mark.Destroyed Place,, May 2000. Christian, Kevin. Paul Klee Chronological Biography and Timeline, http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/kevin_christian/kleebio.htm, May 2000. Jones, Howard.
Interview with Justin Pevnick. John Burroughs School. Saint Louis. 18 May 2000.