Tate is all the merrier for Paul Klee’s Christmas trees – but did you know that London's love affair with Klee began 68 Christmasses ago?

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  • Doetsch Benziger Telegram to Mr Reid Tate Gallery 20 December 1946
    Doetsch Benziger's telegram to Tate staff member Norman Reid (who went on to become the gallery's Director in 1964) on 20 December 1946
  • Paul Klee Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms
    Paul Klee Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms 1920

  • Paul Klee Project for a Garden 1922 Paul Klee Stiftung, Zentrum Paul Klee
    Paul Klee
    Project for a Garden 1922
    Paul Klee Stiftung, Zentrum Paul Klee
  • Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933
    Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon 1933

Merry Christmas readers! For those of you who have been inspired by the festive spirit of Paul Klee at Tate Modern (and for those who have yet to), we thought it would be nice to show you something you have in common with art-lovers of Christmasses past. 

Tate held a Paul Klee exhibition in December of 1945, five years after the artist’s death in 1940 and just months after the end of the war; halted plans for shipping the work from Europe appear to have resumed as soon as the war was over.

At this point, most visitors would not yet have been familiar with Klee’s work, and shortly before the show opened, one of the exhibition’s organisers wrote a letter (now in the Tate archive) to Klee’s widow, Lily - too unwell herself to travel from Bern for the exhibition - emphasising the importance of that show in introducing the artist to a UK audience. After thanking her for loaning the works, Rolf Burgi writes: 

“Paul Klee is a famous artist both in this country [Switzerland] and on the continent but his work has been insufficiently shown in London. I know our exhibition will be a great success and will appear particularly to the younger generation of British artists. We shall be pleased to send you cuttings from the principal reviews”

The show does indeed appear to have been a hit - The Times called it ‘thoroughly representative of the works of Klee, a master of delicate and abstruse fantasy’, and the show was extended due to high demand, after which many of the works were sent on a national tour. The telegram above, sent over Christmas 1946, was to confirm the safe return of a painting to its lender afterwards. 

So, let’s spare a Christmas wish for Paul Klee and the curators who first showed us his work in that winter of 1945. 68 years (and many happy Tate visitors) later, London has never looked back.