The Bauhaus Masters’ Houses

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It was just a short walk from the Bauhaus school building to reach the Master’s Houses, which had been designed by Gropius. There were originally 3 pairs of semi-detached houses for the senior Masters and a detached house for Gropius himself all set in the pine woods which were then on the edge of the town. An idyllic setting. The detached house was destroyed during the war but is being rebuilt. The semidetached houses are essentially the same with the same floor plan, albeit mirrored and rotated by 90°. They were built from prefabricated elements – “cubes”. Their use facilitating construction.

It was possible to access 5 of the Master’s houses which have been renovated. The first we looked at were those initially occupied by Klee and Kadinsky. It was hard to believe that we were walking through the same rooms where they lived and worked. They were quite spacious and had large balconies and massive workrooms/studios with large north facing windows to let in the light but also so passers by could see them at work.

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It wasn’t possible to see all the rooms as some weren’t accessible and it would have been nice if they had been furnished. When originally built, all the houses were equipped with modern furniture, and fitted cupboards were integrated between the kitchen service area and the dining room and between the bedroom and the studio.

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Gropius and Moholy-Nagy fitted out their houses exclusively with furniture by their Bauhaus colleague,  Marcel Breuer, but the other masters brought their own furniture with them.

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The staircases had long windows extending almost the height of the building which let in plenty of light

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and provided views over the other houses and woods.

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There are spacious balconies which could, in effect, become outdoor rooms during pleasant weather.

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We gained a good impression of how the Masters lived. It must have been a pretty ideal living and working environment, but with a lack of insulation and single glazed windows with metal frames, the houses must have been either pretty cold in the winter or cost a fortune to heat.

Les Klee du Paradis

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Across the road from the Scloss Charlotenburg in Berlin, facing each other on opposite sides of the Schloßstraße, are two Galleries that are part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg Museum and the Berggruen Museum.

The  works displayed in the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg Museum  were collected by Otto Gerstenberg and his grandson Dieter Scharf. It consits of a large number of works by Surrealists and precursors to surrealism such as Goya. More about the permanent collection in another post but during our visit the temporary exhibtion at the museum concentrated on the works of Paul Klee.

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Last summer we’d visited the Berggruen Museum to look at their collection of works by Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti and others. And during that visit I really discovered the work of Paul Klee. Although I’d heard of him before the visit I’d never really paid much attention to his work, but while wandering round the Berggruen I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by his work – the brightly coloured, small scale pictures, painted in different styles, that occupied room after room in the Gallery. After the visit I wanted to find out more  and subsequently was pleased when I had the opportunity to go to the exhibition of his work at the Tate Modern in London earlier this year.

The temporary exhibition, Les Klee du Paradis – Paul Klee in the Collections of the Nationalgalerie, features the 70 works from the Berggruen Museum together with another 30 or so from Scharf-Gerstenberg’s collection plus other works by Klee from the Neue Nationalgalerie. It was a comprehensive exhibition covering the period when Klee’s was a Master at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, some early, Symbolist-inspired works, as well as some works from later in his career.

‘Les Klee du paradis’ means ‘The Klees of paradise’. At the same time, the name ‘Klee’ sounds similar to the French word for ‘key’ (clé). This homage to Heinz Berggruen, who was born in Berlin 100 years ago on 6 January 1914, thus promises to hold the ‘the keys to paradise’.

Paradise indeed. A marvellous exhibition. Not a duff paining in sight. These were some of my favourites

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Landscape in Blue (1917)

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Blue Mountain (1919)

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Der Bock (1921)

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Abstract colour harmony in squares with vermillion accents (1924)

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Ancient town by the water (1924)

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Part of G (1927)

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The sealed lady (1930)

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Di Zeit (1933)

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New game begins (1934)

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Y Isolated (1937)

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Paul Klee at the Tate Modern

The EY Exhibition: Paukl Klee banner

One of the highlights of our holiday in Berlin last summer was our visit to the Museum Berggruen. Our main reason for that visit was to see their excellent, large collection of works by Picasso. However, we found ourselves spending the majority of our time there looking works by the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, of which they had an extremely large number.

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Although I’d heard of Klee before the visit I’d never really paid much attention to his work, but while wandering round the Berggruen I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by his work – the brightly coloured, small scale pictures, painted in different styles, that occupied room after room in the Gallery.  The interest was reinforced knowing that Klee was a major figure at the Bauhaus during it’s Dessau period, and I’ve become particularly interested in the history of the Bauhaus in recent years. So when I heard that the Tate Modern were to hold a major retrospective survey of his work, we arranged to take a brief holiday in London early January before I got too busy at work.

The exhibition, which occupies 17 rooms on the third floor of the former power station certainly did not disappoint. It was a chronological survey, the pictures displayed in the order in which they were produced. Made easy by the fact that Klee had a meticulous numbering system for his paintings.

As an artist he defies categorisation – although he was unquestionably an abstract painter, his style changed over time. He was an accomplished draftsman and he sometimes incorporated cartoon like figures into his works. But for me he is particularly notable as a real master of colour. He knew how to combine colours, what to put next to each other to contrast and complement. Often employing the colours on a grid like structure.

Paul Klee Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms

Paul Klee, Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms (1920)

Paul Klee Steps 1929

Paul Klee Steps (1929)

In the 1930’s he adopted a pointilist style, although still abstract, for many of his paintings, such as this one

Paul Klee Polyphony (1932)

He worked in a range of different media – including oils, watercolours, tempura, collage – applied to all sorts of surfaces. He even invented a new technique – oil transfer sketches – where line drawing were traced onto a canvas from his original drawing using a type of oil based “carbon paper” that he’d invented. The following work  Twittering machine is an example of such a work. He’s traced his cartoon like drawing of a group of birds standing on a wire or roughly sketched branch, connected to some sort of hand crank, onto a blue and black watercolour painted background. On one level it’s quite an amusing sketch, but also rather sinister and disturbing.

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Paul Klee Twittering Machine (1922)

Surrealist influences are evident in some works, such as this one.

Paul Klee, 'Comedy' 1921

Paul Klee, Comedy (1921)

Although essentially an abstract artist he did incorporate figurative elements in many works. He seemed to have a particular penchant for fish which appear in several works including this one,one of my favourites in the exhibition.

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Paul Klee Fish Magic (1925)

I found this this later work quite striking. At first it looks like a mess of randomly drawn blue and black squiggles. But a closer look reveals the features of a group of witches gathering on Walpurgis Night, the eve of the first of May, to perform rituals to ward off evil.

Paul Klee, ‘Walpurgis Night’ 1935

Paul Klee Walpurgis Night (1935)

There was a lot to see and we spent about two and a half hours wandering through the rooms. But it wasn’t oppressive. Although busy, it wasn’t crowded. Just as well or it would have been difficult to look at and study the largely small scale works. But we had time, and room, to do just that. And were even able to wander back and have another look at some of our favourites.

My only criticism was that I’d have liked to have seen more contextual information about Klee’s life and work and more information on his theoretical work – he wrote several books, and published the teaching manual he wrote while he was a Master at the Bauhaus, das Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (‘Pedagogical Sketchbook’). But an excellent exhibition and the chronological approach worked for me as we were able to see how his work developed, evolved and changed over time. As with many such large scale shows it would benefit from further visits as there was really too much to take in during the course of a few hours. But I got a copy of the catalogue for Christmas and downloaded the Tate’s iphone / ipad app so can relive the experience to some extent (although not as good as a re-visit to see the works “in the flesh”)

Museum Berggruen

One of the highlights of our trip to Berlin was visiting the Berggruen Museum, which is opposite the Charlottenburg Palace in the West of Berlin. Although it was quite a distance from where we were staying, we were able to get there easily by taking the U-Bahn – a direct line from Alexanderplatz.  It’s collection is largely devoted to only a small number of artists, but what artists -Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Giacometti. They also have some works by Braque, Henri Laurens and Cézanne, and a selection of African sculptures.

The Gallery only recently reopened in March this year and I don’t know whether word about it hasn’t got out yet because it was relatively quiet while we were there – which was a good thing for us! The collection was so good it was, literally, breath-taking. One visit wasn’t enough – but it’s not so easy to pop round to have another look! But going back to see the collection is in itself a reason for a return trip to Berlin.

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The museum building is a former officer’s barracks which has been refurbished and extended, connected to the adjacent Kommandantenhaus by a glass passage. There’s also a sculpture garden in the inner courtyard.

The buildings have been beautifully restored, especially the staircase and dome in the main building.

(Image source: Archinform)

The core of the museum’s collection came from Heinz Berggruen, a Jewish citizen of Berlin, born in 1914, who had to flee Germany in 1936 to escape the Nazis. He moved to the USA and then, after the war, to Paris where he eventually became an art dealer representing Picasso. He built up his art collection which he eventually ended up selling it at a reduced price to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 2000 as a gesture of reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The museum has over 120 works by Picasso spanning his entire career from 16 onwards and encompassing all the different artistic styles he adopted. This meant that it was possible to see how his work changed and developed over his career. I’ve been to the Picasso museum in Paris a couple of times and was bowled over by their collection, but this was equally good if not better.

There were so many fantastic paintings that it’s hard to pick out favourites. But a couple of portraits of his lover, Dora Marr, particularly struck me. Although they were created within a year of each other, their styles are completely different.

The first is a classic cubist portrait, with distorted features and perspective, the face painted from more than one viewpoint and the childlike hands.

Pablo Picasso Dora Maar mit grünen Fingernägeln, 1936 Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 54 cm © Succession Picasso / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013 / bpk / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Berggruen / Jens Ziehe

Dora Maar with Green Nails (1936) Image source – Berlin&I website

The second is a much more traditional pastel and pencil drawing

Dora Maar with a Crown of Flowers 1937 (Image source Artnet)

Both are extremely accomplished and, in different ways, bring out the essence of his subject.

They had a few sculptures by Picasso too. One was just a little bird made from scraps of wood and wire. Very simple but very effective. A good example of how he could catch the the essence of his subject using basic “found” materials.

70 works by Paul Klee, again covering his whole career, including his time as an instructor at the Bauhaus. Prior to the visit to the Berggruen  I hadn’t seen much of his work, but the Museum have a large number of his pictures showing how his work changed and developed over his career that embraced expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. The works by Klee in the collection

… include mysterious, lyrical drawings like ‘Galgenhumor’ and ‘Den Fischen läuten’, both from 1919, which evoke Klee’s early affinity to Symbolism, as well as studies of colour and form such as ‘transparent – perspectivisch gefügt (I)’ from 1921 and ‘Nekropolis’ from 1929, which stem from his time as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Works such as ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939) and ‘Der Teppich’ from 1940, a watercolour painted shortly before he died, exemplify Klee’s later body of work. (Museum Berggruen website)

This painting “Blauer Berg” – Blue Mountain – (1919) was one of my favourites.

Blue mountain by Klee

This is ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939), one of the later paintings

 Paul Klee - A children's game in 1939.

It was hard to take everything in during the visit, but it has made me want to find out more about his work.

Matisse (1869-1954) and Giacometti (1901-1966) are mainly represented in by works from the later part of their careers. There were a number of paper cuts by Matisse including images from his artist’s book “Jazz” and

Henri Matisse, Die Seilspringerin, 1952

Die Seilspringerin (1952) by Matisse

There were several figures of standing women and walking men by Giacometti, his usual subjects. I was particularly taken by a small sculpture of a cat – almost a 3D representation of a Lowry stick figure – and an unusual subject for Giacometti.

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For once, I was so overwhelmed by the art that I didn’t spend any time taking photographs (the German galleries we visited generally allowed photography). There was so much to see that I just wanted to spend my time looking at the pictures and sculptures. So at the end of the visit I thought I buy a guidebook from the Museum bookshop. However, as we found out when visiting other museums in Berlin, they didn’t seem to go for producing the “best of” type books that are common in British galleries. They had a catalogue, which was pricey but good value, but it was a monster with a photograph of just about every painting in the collection and too heavy to cart around Berlin. Not only that, I would have definitely incurred an excess baggage charge from Easyjet if I’d tried to take it on the plane home!  And unlike the Tate and other major national galleries in the UK, the German National Museums (of which the Berggruen  is part) have hardly any images of the art works they own on their website. So I’m having to try and rely on my memory (at least until the copy of the catalogue I ordered from the Museum arrives – I caved in and placed an order over the Internet after I got home – it’s cheaper than a return visit!)