Baziotes,the Clown, and the Artist

William Baziotes, Pierrot, 1947, Oil on canvas, 42 1/8 x 36 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1984 © Estate of William Baziotes

By the time William Baziotes painted Pierrot, he had become active in the Surrealist circles in New York centered around Chilean émigré artist Roberto Matta. A regular at Matta’s studio, Baziotes joined his colleagues Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and others, in making drawings using the method of automatic writing, a hallmark of Klee’s practice.

Baziotes adapted automatic writing to his drawing of the character Pierrot, who emerges from a few fluid lines and broad shapes of color that meld together against an ethereal turquoise and mauve background. In his whimsical portrayal of an eye encased within three concentric bands, Baziotes suggests that there may be more to the figure than “meets the eye.” For Baziotes as for Klee, the tragiccomic clown was analogous to the modern artist. “The clown is a romantic and classical image,” Baziotes said. “The artist doesn’t want to reveal his feelings directly so he presents himself in disguise. His clothes and gestures are gay and beautiful, his face is sad.”

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

Paul Klee’s Kettledrummer

Paul Klee, Kettledrummer, 1940, Colored paste on paper on cardboard, 13 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland

“I philosophize about death that perfects what could not be completed in life.”—Paul Klee

Kettledrummer, one of the last works Klee painted before his death, is the culmination of a series of at least five images he explored on the drum motif. The kettledrum may serve as a visual metaphor for death, recalling its role in Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K. 626, which the composer left unfinished on his deathbed. Klee had heard the piece performed while he was living in Dessau several years earlier. In a letter to his wife, he proclaimed, “The work is good even where Mozart’s hand is missing…But undoubtedly Mozart himself would have pushed it forward to some further development.”

Unlike the artist’s earlier monochromatic variations on the motif, Kettledrummer combines thick black lines overlaid on roughly brushed washes of red. Klee used a graphic shorthand to suggest the upward and downward thrust of the mallets against the drum, symbolized by the lines ending in circular forms. At the top, Klee playfully inscribed an eye within the arched line and black dot that denotes the fermata (musical sign to indicate a pause).

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

Architecture and the City in Art

Godfrey Frankel, New York City Series (Shadows Under “El”), ca. 1947. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Benjamin Nicolette, 2006

In honor of today’s Museum Week theme, #CityMW, here are some artworks from our collection featuring city views.

Marjorie Phillips, The City, 1922. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of the artist, 1984

John Gernand, City, 1945. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1945

Louis Michel Eilshemius, New York Roof Tops, 1908. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1945