In the third instalment of our curator’s A–Z guide to the great Swiss modernist, Matthew Gale explains what to do if a cat walks across your work – according to Paul Klee

Paul Klee with the cat Fripouille, Possenhofen, 1921. Photo: Felix Klee Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Klee Family Donation
Paul Klee with the cat Fripouille in Possenhofen, Germany in 1921, alongside his work All Souls' Picture, 1921

Throughout Klee’s life cats were part of the family. They appear in his letters and his photographs, and even as subjects of his works. Fritzi the cat was ever-present in the 1920s, whilst Bimbo was central to the later Bauhaus years, followed by a second Bimbo who moved with them to Switzerland.

As Nicholas Fox Weber explains in this month’s Tate Etc., one particular anecdote of the painter’s feline-fondness came from the American art collector, Edward M.M. Warburg, who visited Klee (and his cat) to look at some works on paper. He recalled seeing the cat start to walk across a still-wet watercolour and tried to stop him, afraid that he would leave a paw-print. But Klee is said to have simply laughed, and told him to let the cat wander as he liked. ‘Many years from now, one of your art connoisseurs will wonder how in the world I ever got that effect’, he explained. Whether or not this account is true, it shows Klee’s openness to unexpected developments.

Whilst cats don’t feature in any works in the show, dogs, fish and birds make an appearance (more on them later in our A–Z! Next week, D is for diaries…)

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