This week in our AZ, curator Matthew Gale taps into the modernist painter Paul Klee’s penchant for adopting uncanny titles for his artwork

Paul Klee Outbreak of Fear III, 1939 © Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Paul Klee
Outbreak of Fear III
, 1939

© Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee inscribed allusive titles on his drawings and watercolours for all to read. A cubistic structure from 1913 is called When God Considered the Creation of the Plants (suggesting there were other options), while a gradation of 1922 is called Hanging Fruit. More fantastic are the narratives augmented by such titles as Primeval World Couple.

In the period of crisis in 1933–4, with his enforced return to Switzerland, his titles became bleaker. A work acquired by his former colleague at the Bauhaus, the architect Mies van der Rohe was called The Man of the Future; whether optimistically or ironically is difficult to discern. Bewitched Petrified brilliantly summarises the anxieties of the period, just as Outbreak of Fear captures Klee’s sense of mortality in 193940.

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