In this week’s instalment of our curator’s A–Z series, Matthew Gale looks at how Paul Klee was regarded once he made his name - and with whom he was inevitably compared

Paul Klee, Hovering, 1930
Paul Klee, Hovering, 1930

Once his public standing became established in the mid-1920s, Paul Klee, like many artists of his generation, was often compared to and contrasted with Picasso.

The Czech writer Karel Teige remarked on the impossibility of describing Klee’s paintings, concluding: ‘We can merely say that, together with the works of Picasso and de Chirico, they represent the most poetic values of contemporary art.’ In 1934, another reviewer suggested: ‘Both Klee and Picasso stand, as it were, on the very edge of consciousness … eager to catch a glimpse of the ultimate frame of existence.’

Perhaps the greatest impact of Klee’s work came soon after his death, when the scope of his production was revealed in memorial exhibitions. ‘A realisation emerges, perhaps a little unexpectedly’, wrote the New York critic, Sidney Janis, in 1944, ‘[that] if there is any artist after Picasso, the character of whose work runs through twentieth-century American painting … like a recurring theme, it is Klee.’

Next week: S is for… Satire

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