Calligraphy as an Artistic Style

Mark Tobey, After the Imprint, 1961. Gouache on illustration board, 39 1/4 x 27 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1962 © 2015 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Tobey saw the potential of his calligraphic style to reconcile the rational and irrational forces of humankind and arrive at a “unified world,” one that mirrored the union of the polarizing yin-yang principles in Asian calligraphy. In this mature work, Tobey layered strokes of white, black, and beige in an all-over pattern suggestive of the unseen energies of the cosmos.

In 1947, American critic Clement Greenberg deemed Tobey a product of the “School of Klee”—a classification that Tobey wore proudly, later professing to his dealer his “kinship to Klee.” Late in life, while living in Basel, Tobey acquired a drawing by Klee.

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

The “Moe” Behind 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

Young Moe is one of the few abstract portraits in Paul Klee’s oeuvre. Its title alludes to Albert Moeschinger (known as “Moe”), a professor of music theory with whom Klee had studied at the conservatory of Bern. In 1935, Moeschinger dedicated three compositions for violin and piano (Humoresken) to Klee, who gave him two paintings in return.

Following his late style, Klee applied heavy black lines onto flat fields of color, filling his surface in all directions. The subtly modulating colors—from yellow to ocher, brown-yellow, and purplish-gray—have the emotional impact of a melody that supports the rhythmic linear notations above.

One of the last Klee works acquired by Duncan Phillips, Young Moe was regularly displayed in the “Klee room” at the Phillips, inspiring artists such as Kenneth Noland and Gene Davis.

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

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Robert Motherwell

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 respond to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Zuzana Jurisova, Education Coordinator, created this playlist in response to Robert Motherwell’s “Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes).”

Robert Motherwell, Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes), 1947, Oil on paper on fiberboard, 24 x 19 7/8 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

When I looked at Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes) by Robert Motherwell, I immediately thought of a traveler, an adventurer that is undertaking a voyage to an undiscovered land. I was struck by the fact that the figure in the painting is a girl and shown seemingly alone in the work, but unafraid. The songs I have chosen reflect a journey (both physically and within one’s self) from dissatisfaction (Running Up That Hill, Sprawl II) and the thrill of embarking on an adventure (Verdis Quo, Walking on a Dream). I finished the playlist with Yellow by Coldplay as Motherwell was heavily influenced by the ocher color of his childhood in California and the song also feels like a homecoming of sorts.

Zuzana Jurisova, Education Coordinator

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.