K ept in the same private collection for the last 60 years, it is a great honour for Sotheby’s to present for sale Abend In N (Evening In N) or Architektur Abends, a remarkable work by Paul Klee dating from 1937. Painted in nocturnal tones, the composition is emblematic of the artist’s technique based on subtle associations of geometric shapes and colours. Incredibly, the work was remarkably well-preserved since its creation. It has been exhibited in the world’s most prestigious museums since it was painted, reflecting its status within Klee’s oeuvre.
A masterpiece in his extraordinary body of work, Paul Klee’s Abend In N (Evening In N) or Architektur Abends offers a particularly revealing insight into the artist’s genius and his poetic, architectural style. He breaks up the construction lines to leave space for a geometric arrangement of form. As he explained in his 1902 journal, his ‘current and future objective has the sole aim of unifying or harmonising the artistic language of poetry and architecture.’ (Journal. III 1902, N° 429). This spatial poetry is noticeable in his work of the same year, Beginnende Kühle.
Paul Klee bases his architectural composition on a combination of geometric shapes and while the subject of the painting is still discernible, it tends towards abstraction. In the same way, in Abend In N (Evening In N) or Architektur Abends, the artist creates an arrangement of mosaics to represent an architectural construction. This patchwork of interlocking shapes echoes some of his previous work, such as Stadtburg Kr of 1932. According to the artist himself: "We construct and keep on constructing endlessly, yet intuition is still a good thing.
We can do a lot without it, but not everything. Without it we can achieve many things in many different ways and over long periods, we can also achieve great things, but not everything. When intuition is combined with exact research, it accelerates the progress of research in a remarkable way. Exactitude fused with intuition is in some instances superior." (Paul Klee in Exact Experiments in the Realm of Art in Théorie de l’art moderne, Geneva, 1969, p. 48) For Klee, the framework of the drawing is therefore the basis of visual expression and artistic intuition is reflected in the composition.
"Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible. The very nature of graphic art lures us to abstraction, readily and with reason."
Klee constructs a nocturnal city with a structured and codified rhythm of squares, rectangles, vertical, horizontal and diagonals lines. Every architectural zone is of equal size giving the work a regular overall rhythm. The artist’s chromatic palette is also revealing of the work’s subject: In order to create an architectural ensemble at nightfall, Klee uses a palette of cold colours, with a gradation of greys and blues, while also employing some warm colours such as red which he deploys within shades of brown. This coloured construction merges the architectural domain with geometrical forms and thereby infuses the work with a dreamlike dimension which offers the viewer another vision of reality.
He talks about this in his 1920 collection, Creative Confession: "At one time, people used to paint things that could be seen, things they liked or would have liked to see. Now we make the reality of visible things apparent and in doing so express the belief that, in relation to the world as a whole, the visible is just one example and there are many more truths, which lie dormant.
Things appear in their extended and manifold sense, often seemingly contradicting yesterday’s rational experiences. The aim is to reveal the fundamental idea behind the coincidental." (Paul Klee, Creative Confession, 1920, n. p.). Even if the coincidental is predominant, a certain rationality is still there and the line remains the foundation of all of Klee’s work.
This principle was notably first shared at the conference in Iéna in Paris in 1924, where he explained that the three formal elements in art are, in order of priority: the line, chiaroscuro and colour. These three principles are respected in Abend In N (Evening In N) or Architektur Abends, where we can see the domination of the line, the vivid contrasts and the diversity of the colour palette.
The detailed and descriptive title of the artwork – Abend In N (Evening In N) or Architektur Abends – gives a richer meaning to the geometric composition. Klee thus seems to propose a graphic metaphor for the architectural domain as for him: "art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible. The very nature of graphic art lures us to abstraction, readily and with reason. It gives the schematic fairytale quality of the imaginary and expresses it with great precision. The purer the graphic work, that is, the more emphasis it puts on the basic formal elements, the less well-suited it will be to the realistic representation of visible things." (Credo du créateur, 1920 in Paul Klee, Fondation Maeght, catalogue September 1977, p. 28)