The Supreme Doodler

Robert Motherwell, Concept of Woman, 1946. Crayon and watercolor on paper, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Louis and Susan Stamberg, 2014

“One of my natural talents that I don’t use enough in painting is line and paint both. I guess the closest example, though he does miniatures compared to what I do, is Paul Klee.”—Robert Motherwell

obert Motherwell had extensive contact with Paul Klee’s art, both in reproductions in books he owned, as well as in the “hundreds of Klees” he saw in exhibitions in New York. Professing his admiration for Klee as a “supreme doodler,” Motherwell equated doodling to automatic drawing, a method he was first introduced to by Surrealist Roberto Matta in 1941. “I think doodling is strictly one of the alternative ways of drawing. So far as I know, every Paul Klee, after his maturity, invariably began with doodling.”

In his witty Concept of Woman, Motherwell exploits his talent as a doodler in both line and color. Doodling was, however, only the first step in a dynamically evolving process Motherwell called “the automatic and formal beauty that is the end result of an emerging process.” In Concept of Woman, Motherwell begins the composition with freely drawn lines and circular forms that eventually achieve a structural rhythm evocative of a female figure. The “real content” of painting, Motherwell argued, was an expression of a person’s mysterious and elusive qualities, perhaps an aspect that underlies this work’s evocative title.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Paul Klee

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Maria Vizcaino, Associate Director of Gala and Special Events, created this playlist in response to Paul Klee’s “Young Moe.”

Paul Klee, Young Moe, 1938. Colored paste on newspaper on burlap, 20 7/8 x 27 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1948

Looking closely at the painting, I realized it was full of movement. As my eye makes its way from right to left, the figure, looking calm and content, seems to be inviting the viewer to join it for a dance. The first few songs I picked are perfect to dance with someone, but as I move across the painting, I picked songs with a rhythm ]you can more comfortably dance to on your own.

The title Young Moe made me think of young me and some of the songs I grew up dancing to.

The playlist is 38 minutes long in an ode to the year the painting was made: 1938.

Maria Vizcaino, Associate Director of Gala and Special Events

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at and we may feature it on our blog and social media.

Hot Sun and Desert Dust in Paul Klee’s Colors

Paul Klee, Arab Song, 1932. Oil on burlap, 35 7/8 x 25 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940

Arab Song recalls Paul Klee’s love of North Africa, first experienced in Tunisia in 1914 and reawakened in 1928 in Egypt. It was within the intense light-filled landscapes of North Africa that Klee discovered color. Klee literally infused color into Arab Song, an aspect that drew Duncan Phillips to this work. Phillips wrote, “With only a raw canvas stained to a few pale tones, he evoked a hot sun, desert dust, faded clothes, veiled women, an exotic plant, a romantic interpretation of North Africa.” Bold for the time, Klee’s method of directly applying color onto an unprimed canvas became a call to arms in the 1950s for a young generation of Color Field painters, such as Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.