Find out what bears and Paul Klee have in common in the second instalment of our A–Z of Paul Klee blog by curator Matthew Gale

The BearPark in Bern, Switzerland

The BearPark in Bern, Switzerland

Image: RANDO

Paul Klee was born in the town of Münchenbuchsee outside Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, on 18 December 1879. Within a year after his birth, the Klee family left the municipality and moved south to the Swiss capital. Featuring on the city’s coat of arms, bears are the symbol of Bern and there is a sculpture of a bear in armour in the main street known as the Zähringerbrunnen or Zähringen Fountain. Built in the 1500s as a memorial to Berthold V, duke of Zähringen, who founded the city in 1191, the story goes that a bear was the first animal killed by Berthold V in the founding year of the city. This legend is said to be the source of the city’s name and, to this day, bears still live in a special enclosure near the city centre.

The Zähringerbrunnen (Zähringen Fountain) displays a statue of bear in full armour

The Zähringerbrunnen in Bern

© Christoph Hurni

Klee’s youth was spent entirely in the Swiss capital, and the bears (both live and sculptural) may have helped to fire his imagination. However in 1898 he moved to Munich to go to art school. After marrying the musician Karoline Stumpf, known as Lily (more on Lily later in the series), and settling in Munich in 1907, he frequently holidayed in Bern. This family connection allowed him and his wife to retreat there in late 1933, when the Nazis stripped him of his teaching post in Germany. He did not leave Switzerland again.

Continuing with the furry animal theme, look out for C is for…Cats next week.

The EY exhibition: Paul Klee - Making Visible opens at Tate Modern on 16 October, tickets available now.

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