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Sketch of the Artists in Modernism

Paul Klee

Swiss/German, 1879 – 1940 (60 years)

Paul Klee is a brilliant and unclassifiable artist whose paintings are tied to numerous groundbreaking 20th century movements. Technique and consistent imagination are part of his genius. And he literally wrote the book on color, form and design. He imbedded spiritual content and the subconscious into his compositions, as well as wit, childlike perspective, personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality. A natural draftsman, he challenged traditional boundaries using symbols and signs. “Line going for a walk” was his signature approach to art making: One that animates the elements of art with movement, spontaneity, and magic. Klee, a gifted, disciplined violinist, saw the triangle as a musical note and the color palette as a musical “key”. Portrait of a performer, Senecio is a manifestation of Klee’s humor and African culture, and links drama, theatre and painting in childlike artwork. It’s an example of his principle that line, color planes and space are set in motion by energy from the artist’s mind. Klee left behind one of the most important bodies of work of the 20th century, indelibly changing the course of modern art and influencing generations in the arts.

Paul Klee is a name synonymous with classical modernism. Associated with fundamental avant-garde movements, Klee along with Vasily Kandinsky are considered the founding fathers and pacesetters of abstract art.


Senecio or Head of a Man Going Senile, painted in 1922
is on view at Kunstmuseum Basel/ Basel, Switzerland.

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Vasily Kandinsky

Russian, 1866 – 1944 (77 years)

There could not have been a more charismatic and visionary theorist in Modern Abstraction than Vasily Kandinsky. Painting was above all deeply spiritual for him. He viewed art as ideal to convey universal human emotions and ideas. He possessed a rare physiological gift: He could hear colors and see sounds. Hills and trees were reduced to a lyrical mosaic of line and color. He believed color to be a means of exerting influence upon the soul. Kandinsky practiced art as a metaphysical quest for higher truth. He did his best to avoid titles on paintings that imply objects or meaning to not pre-bias the viewer. He strived to show spirituality and human emotion. Through abstract forms and colors art could transcend language and different cultures. The painting Black and Violet is considered one of his most important works. Lifting the veil of abstraction it shows three boats, one with a Russian flag caught in darkness — perhaps reflecting Kandinsky’s own chaotic departure from Russia. From Russia to Germany to just outside of Paris, he was a driving force in founding some of the most influential art movements. Exhibits brought him international fame; Guggenheim was one of his most enthusiastic supporters.

Vasily Kandinsky is a name synonymous with classical modernism. Associated with fundamental avant-garde movements, Kandinsky along with Paul Klee are considered the founding fathers and pacesetters of abstract art.


Black and Violet from 1923 is in a Private Collection.

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Piet Mondrian

Dutch, 1872-1944 (71 years)

Along with Picasso, Mondrian is synonymous with Modern Art. Mondrian’s compositions of primary color squares, bold lines and his utopian ideals had tremendous impact on the development of modern art. And these were even embraced into popular culture in fashion and even music. After traditional art study, Mondrian explored various styles of painting in the Dutch countryside. Wanting more spiritual communion with the divine, his work took a more abstract direction. Theosophy — a kind of spiritualism — influenced his goal of representing complete pure harmony — as seen in balance, tension of form and color -- in his paintings. He moved to Paris in 1912, and became fully conversant on Picasso’s work and Cubism. In 1920 at age 47 he settled on his signature style, radically simplifying the elements of his paintings. He reduced his pictorial vocabulary to lines and rectangles and his color palette to the basics to pure abstraction. Mondrian was a founder of De Stijl (the style) or Neo-plasticism, one of the most important art movements in the 20th century — a way to represent form that was completely divorced from reality. Modern art as we know it would not exist without Mondrian’s theory of asymmetrical balance and a simplified subject. His bold, iconic abstract works remain influential in design and in our culture to this day.


Composition with Red, Yellow, Black, Blue and Grey was painted in 1921. It is exhibited at Kunstmuseum Den Haag / The Hague, Netherlands.

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