Lot 399
  • 399

Paul Klee

250,000 - 350,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Paul Klee
  • Der Heldentenor als Konzertsänger (The Heroic Tenor as a Concert Singer)
  • Signed Klee (center right); dated 1922, numbered 144 and titled Der Heldentenor als Konzertsänger (on the artist's mount)
  • Watercolor and oil transfer on paper mounted on card
  • Sheet: 11 1/8 by 15 3/8 in.; 28.1 by 39.1 cm
  • Mount: 14 7/8 by 19 5/8 in.; 37.6 by 49.9 cm


Katherine S. Dreier, New York 
Galka E. Scheyer, Braunschweig, New York, San Francisco & Los Angeles (acquired by 1926)
Ida Bienert, Dresden & Munich
Moderne Galerie Otto Stangl, Munich
Berggruen et Cie., Paris 
Saidenberg Gallery, Inc., New York (acquired by 1955)
Selma & Israel Rosen, Baltimore (acquired from the above in December 1955)
Thence by descent


New York, Saidenberg Gallery, Paul Klee, 1955, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue
Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, Modern Art for Baltimore, 1957
Waltham, Brandeis University, Paul Klee, 1960, no. 10
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art; Columbus, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art; Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art; St. Louis, Washington University, Gallery of Art & Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Paul Klee 1879-1940, A Retrospective Exhibition, 1967-68, no. 52


Will Grohmann, Privatsammlungen neuer Kunst. Die Sammlung Ida Bienert Dresden, Potsdam, 1933, p. 22
Will Grohmann, Paul Klee, Stuttgart, 1954, pp. 79 & 192
Felix Klee, Paul Klee. Leben und Werk in Dokumenten, ausgewählt aus den nachgelassenen Aufzeichnungen und den unveröffentlichten Briefen, Zurich, 1960, p. 138
Selma & Israel Rosen, The Selma & Israel Rosen Collection, Baltimore, 1986, illustrated n.p.
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Bern, 1999, no. 2968, illustrated p. 433


This work is in very good condition. Executed on cream laid paper, mounted on card by the artist. The artist's mount is laid down on board. The edges of the sheet are slightly irregular. The artist's mount is lightly time-stained but the pigments on the sheet itself remain bright and fresh. A few scattered faint spots of foxing, barely visible to the naked eye.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Music served as a driving source of inspiration throughout Klee’s career. When he became a professor at the Bauhaus in 1920, he was inspired to devise an approach for teaching young artists. With his extensive musical background—his parents were musicians and he himself a talented violinist—it is only logical that he turned to the language and terms of music as a means to define and encounter the visual arts. In the years that followed, Klee famously experimented with contrapuntal procedures of drawing, arguably derived from the theory and practice of eighteenth-century polyphony.

Although Klee’s musical investigations were predominantly formal in nature, there are periodical moments in his oeuvre when these theoretical discussions are punctuated with rather more whimsical—and frequently comic or autobiographical—compositions, such as that of the present work. At the peak of the Weimar era, Klee attended the opera nearly every night, and the fantastical figure of the tenor singer in Der Heldentenor als Konzertsänger is likely inspired by one of the performances he saw there. Will Grohmann explained Klee’s deep attraction to the stage, writing, “It was not the music alone that attracted him; he had a highly developed sympathy for that world of the contradictory, the illogical, the abstract… Klee liked the detached quality of operatic action; its human characters represent elementary facts rather than psychological entities like Good and Evil, the Pure and the Demonic, Ugliness and Beauty. The symbolic content is shared among a number of figures, so that the general is embodied in the individual” (Will Grohmann, op. cit, 1954, p. 245-46).

Although not completed until 1922, the subject and composition of the present work had already begun to form in the artist’s head by 1920 when he completed a preparatory sketch which now belongs to the Paul Klee Museum in Bern (see fig. 1). Featuring both a tenor and a pianist, the scene depicted here clearly hints at Klee’s affinity for opera, as well as his analytic appreciation of music. Standing on a balcony in a pose familiar to any opera aficionado, the singer has music literally coming out of his mouth, as Klee seemingly attempts to capture visually the visceral aural effect. One can imagine the physical music descending and enveloping the audience below. Indeed, the black strokes that indicate the very matter of what is being sung are repeated throughout the composition, lending themselves equally to the music that emanates through the small piano accompanying the lead singer.