“Hundreds and Hundreds of Klees”

Theodoros Stamos, Full Moon, 1948. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Gift of Peggy Davis Winston in memory of Thomas B. Winston, 1994

“I saw just hundreds of Klees, hundreds and hundreds. Between Nierendorf Gallery and the Buchholz’s Gallery there were just hundreds all the time with changing exhibitions.”—Theodoros Stamos

The son of Greek immigrants, Theodoros Stamos grew up on the Lower East Side of New York and exhibited an early talent for art, receiving a grant to attend the American Artists School at age 13. It was there that Stamos met artist Joseph Solman, an important mentor, whose own infectious love of Paul Klee was quickly instilled in his young protégé. Stamos not only recalled seeing “hundreds” of Klees on view regularly at New York’s commercial galleries, he also enjoyed physical contact with his art while working as a framer, handling paintings that Klee’s dealer brought to his 18th Street frame shop from 1941 to 1948.

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

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.