What’s the story behind the modernist painter Paul Klee’s nationality? Was he Swiss or was he German? Curator Matthew Gale shares the facts in this week’s A–Z of the artist

Throughout his life Paul Klee was a German citizen. Though he was born and died in Switzerland (and spoke ‘Schweizerdeutsch’ at home), he inherited his father’s nationality. This reflected a fluidity across Central-European borders as part of a sense of a shared culture in the later nineteenth century. The consequences were otherwise. As a German, Klee was conscripted into the army in the middle of the First World War (although he served behind the lines). Klee found himself applying for Swiss citizenship on his return to the city of his childhood in 1933. The rules required a five-year residency before nationality could be considered and conferred. Klee’s application in January 1940 was being processed as his health declined and notification of its success arrived shortly after his death in June that year.