In our A–Z this week, curator Matthew Gale blogs on a nineteenth-century wave of ‘Egyptomania’, and the part it played in the story of Paul Klee’s painting in the late Twenties

Paul Klee Steps 1929

Paul Klee
Steps 1929

Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden)

Egypt had been a place of fascination throughout the nineteenth century, combining the attractions of the ancient monuments with the lure of the exotic. Klee seemed to have wanted to go there since his brief trip to Tunis in 1914, and in 1922 a new wave of Egyptomania had been initiated by Howard Carter’s discovery of the untouched tomb of Tutankhamun. Eventually, Klee spent a month in Egypt at the end of 1928 and early 1929, taking the tourist trail from Cairo – where he saw Tutankamun’s treasures in the museum – to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

Klee produced sketches in Egypt and some more work when he went to Tunis, but really it’s the legacy of the work in 1929 and onwards that is important. Some of the paintings that will be in the show, like Fire in the Evening and Steps, have that echo of Egypt – although they’re not explicit paintings of pyramids and the like. That said, Klee did much later on paint sphinxes, but for me, these are amongst his weakest works.