In this week’s instalment of our alphabetical guide to Paul Klee, curator Matthew Gale introduces the artist’s wife, Lily 

  • Paul Klee and Lily Klee (back centre) with a group in Munich in 1908

    Paul Klee and Lily Klee (back centre) with Reinhard Piper, Mr. and Mrs Eliasberg, and others, Munich 1908

    © Klee-Nachlassverwaltung, Bern

Karoline Stumpf, known as Lily, met Paul Klee at a concert in 1899. Throughout their lives together, music underpinned their relationship. An accomplished musician, Lily evidently had a rebellious response to her father’s dismissal of Klee’s attentions. They met in secret, were secretly engaged and, in 1906, were married in Bern rather than her family home. When they settled in Munich it was Lily’s piano lessons that sustained the household.

Once Klee was appointed to the Bauhaus, Lily was able to afford treatment for her precarious health at spas in Germany and Switzerland. Her tenacity was seen in the role she played in transferring the household to Switzerland in 1933 and, after Klee’s death in 1940, in establishing a public legacy for his work.

At a crucial moment following Klee’s death, as Lily was very old and unwell, an agreement was made in Washington allowing the allies to sequestrate German assets abroad, and as both Lily and Paul were still German citizens, she feared that the Klee’s work would be seized and distributed randomly. In the moments before she died, Lily signed an agreement securing Klee’s work as a collection with a charitable purpose, and it was assigned to a number of public collections in Switzerland.

The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee: Making Visible is at Tate Modern from 16 October 2013 – 9 March 2014