About This Artwork

Paul Klee
German, born Switzerland, 1879–1940

Sunset, 1930

Oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 27 3/4 in. (46.1 x 70.5 cm)
Signed, l.l.: "Klee"

Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1981.13

© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Paul Klee was an artist and teacher at the Bauhaus for most of that famed school’s existence. Initially head of the bookbinding department, Klee made his greatest contribution as a lecturer on the theory of form in art for the basic design course. There, he developed his ideas about the “polyphony” of painting—the simultaneous effect of formal elements that produces “a transformed beholder of art.” Klee was also a trained musician and shared with many artists of the early twentieth century the idea that music was the key to producing a new, abstract art. He was interested in the temporal character of music and its possible translation into forms of art. Works like Sunset reflect the principles of rhythm: linear structures, forms, and tonal values are orchestrated into a measured, vibrating image. To produce such a harmonious effect, Klee layered an intricate pattern of dots over a neutral background. Abstract, geometric, and overlapping shapes balance with recognizable forms, such as the schematic face in the upper left and the red sun and arrow in the lower right. The resulting composition—balancing stillness and movement, shallowness and depth—relates to Klee’s larger project of looking to music to produce an art that “does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible.”

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Kunsthalle Bern, Paul Klee, February 23–March 24, 1935, cat. 49 (not ill.), as Sonnenuntergang E9.

Kunsthalle Bern, Paul Klee: Ausstellung in Verbindung mit der Paul-Klee Stiftung, August 11–November 4, 1956, p. 118, cat. 756 (not ill.), as Sonnen untergang. Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, December 2, 1956–January 27, 1957, cat. 264, (not ill.), as Sonnen untergang.

London, Marlborough Fine Arts, Painters of the Bauhaus, March–April 1962, p. 63 (ill.), cat. 138, as Sunset, Sonnenuntergang.

Washington, D.C., National Gallery, 100 European Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block, May 4–June 11, 1967, n.p. (ill.), cat. 35; traveled to Los Angeles, City Museum of Art, September 21–November 2, 1967, and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, February 2–April 14, 1968, n.p. (ill.), cat. 36.

Huston, The Menil Collection, Klee and America, June 16-September 10, 2006, Washingtin D.C., The Pillips Collection, October 6, 2006- January 14, 2007, cat. 72.

Publication History

Will Grohmann, Paul Klee (Harry N. Abrams, 1954), pp. 284 (ill.), 401, 417, no. 302, cat. 133, as Sunset, Sonnenuntergang, Coucher de soleil.

Will Grohmann, Paul Klee, trans. by Jean Descoullayes and Jean Philippon (Geneva: Trois collines, 1954), pp. 276, 401 (ill.), 419, no. 302, cat. 133, as Sunset, Sonnenuntergang, Coucher de soleil. Jürg Spiller, Paul Klee. Das bildnerische Denken.

Klee and America, ed. Josef Helfenstein and Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Exh. cat. (The Menial Collection and Hatje Cantz), ill. 189, cat. 72.

Form- und Gestaltungslehre (Basel: B. Schwabe, 1956), p. 75 (not ill.), as Sonnenuntergang.Max Huggler, “Paul Klee,” in Künstler-Lexicon der Schweiz: XX. Jahrhundert (Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Huber, 1958), vol. 1, p. 527 (not ill.), as Sonnenuntergang.

Richard Verdi, “Musical Influences on the Art of Paul Klee,”Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 3 (1968), pp. 98 (ill.), 99–100, fig. 16.

Max Huggler, Paul Klee: Die Malerei als Blick in den Kosmos (Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Huber, 1969), p. 123. (not ill.)Christian Geelhaar, Paul Klee und das Bauhaus (Cologne: Du Mont Schauberg, 1972), p. 140 (not ill.).

Richard Verdi, “Paul Klee’s ‘Fish Magic,’ An Interpretation,” Burlington Magazine 116, 852 (March 1974), pp. 150 (ill.), 151, no. 30.

Richard Verdi, Klee and Nature (London: A. Zwemmer, 1984), pp. xv, 173 (ill.), 174, fig. 163.

Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1980–81 (1981), pp. 10 (ill.), 26, 64.

Larry Silver, Art in History (Abbeville Press, 1993), p. 400 (ill.), fig. 9.46.

Gottfried Boehm, Ulrich Mosch, and Katharina Schmidt, eds., Canto d’Amore: Klassizistische Moderne in Musik und bildender Kunst 1914–1935, exh. cat. (Kunstmuseum Basel, 1996), p. 347 (ill.), fig. 3.

Paul-Klee-Stiftung, Paul Klee; Catalogue Raisonné (Bern, 2000), vol. 5, p. 506 (ill.), cat. 5327, as Sonnenuntergang, Sunset

Ownership History

Probably by descent to the artist’s wife, Lily Klee (died 1946), Bern, from 1940 to 1946 [letter from Christian Rümelin, Paul-Klee-Stiftung, December 14, 1999]; probably sold to the Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern, 1946 [letter mentioned above]; probably given to Will Grohmann, Dresden and Berlin, by 1954 to 1962 [verso sticker, and according to letter from Karin von Maur, December 13, 1999]; sold to Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, from 1962 to 1964 [according to letter from Karin von Maur listed above, London 1962 and Paul-Klee-Stiftung 2000]; sold to Mary and Leigh B. Block, Chicago, from 1964 to 1981 [Paul-Klee-Stiftung 2000]; given to the Art Institute, 1981.

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