Growing up in a family of musicians and gifted on the violin, the adolescent Klee was torn between pursuing music, literature or painting. After his studies at the Progymnasium in Bern, he decided to become a painter, and in 1898 enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied with Heinrich Knirr and Franz von Stuck. He completed his training with a trip to Italy (1901-2). On his return to Bern, he began his first noteworthy works, featuring engravings on zinc and glass paintings. In 1906 he married and settled in Munich, where his son Felix was born the following year. His wife, a piano teacher, supported them, because of the repeated rejections of Klee's work. He finally succeeded in showing a few watercolors at the Secession Salons in Munich and Berlin, yet his first one-man show, in 1910 at the Bern Museum, was by no means successful. From 1911 to 1913 he entered the fray of modern art, becoming friends with Kandinsky, Arp, Franz Marc, and many other notable artists of the day, and participated in the second Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich and the German Autumn Salon in Berlin. In April 1914 a short trip to Tunisia brought him the revelation of color. During the First World War, he was enlisted in the army, on March 1916, and sent to Schleissheim, then to Gersthofen near Augsburg. Discharged in February 1919, he resumed his work in Munich, where he had a major exhibition in 1920 at the Goltz Gallery. Appointed professor at the Bauhaus school in Weimar, he arrived there in January 1921, then moved to Dessau, when the Bauhaus relocated there in 1925. On the occasion of his first exhibition in Paris, that same year, the surrealists paid homage to him and invited him to participate in the Exhibition of Surrealism, at Galerie Pierre. In 1931, terminating his assignment at the Bauhaus, Klee became a professor at the School of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf. After being harassed by the Nazis, he returned to Bern, at the end of 1933, and was honored there in 1934 with a retrospective at the Kunsthalle. Although afflicted with scleroderma, for which he underwent cures at Tarasp and Montana, his output was staggering: in 1939 he composed 43 paintings, 245 watercolors and 962 drawings. On May 10, 1940 he was admitted to the sanatorium of Orselino-Locarno in Ticino, then moved to the Sant'Agnese clinic at Muralto-Locarno on June 8, where, on June 29, he died. Klee left behind theoretical writings, poems, a diary and a great number of paintings, most of which are held at the Klee Foundation at the Bern Museum. He did not directly participate in surrealism, as his working method excluded automatism. Nevertheless, with his fantastic mythology and poetic titles, his interest in children's drawings and the art of the insane, and his search for a pictorial semiology, he is the greatest of the "surrealists in spite of themselves."
Born 1879 in Münchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland; died 1940 in Muralto-Locarno, Switzerland.