Paul Klee: Google Honors Artist Who Used Rectangles Like "Musical Notes"

Klee was a student of art, but only came to it after giving up music.

If you squint, you can sort of see hints of the Google logo in “Rote Brücke” (“Red Bridge”), the 1928 work by the Swiss-German icon of modern art Paul Klee. On Tuesday, the search giant took this vision one step further by paying homage to that paining — and Klee’s life — with its own Google Doodle.

Added are a few more triangular rooftops to the village seen at night in order to flesh out the capital G, along with a few more arched doorways to add the more pronounced o’s and e’s of Google’s logo. The original work “transforms the rooftops and arches of a European city into a pattern of shapes rendered in contrasting yet harmonious hues,” observes Google in its description.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018, marks 139 years since Klee was born. He died at age 60 in 1940 in Switzerland. By his death, he had reached fame in the art world for his prolific nature — he claimed more than 9,000 works (!!!); recording them with a studious manner, and wrote about art theory at great length. He had also, by many accounts, created his own unique style that combined cubism, expressionism, and even surrealism.

On the left is Paul Klee's original painting and on the right is the homage paid to it by Google.
On the left is Paul Klee's original painting and on the right is the homage paid to it by Google.

Klee was a student of art but only came to it after giving up the violin in his teen years, as he felt the form had reached its peak in the 18th century. Music was on the decline, Klee thought. Meanwhile, visual art was beginning to blossom again with new forms, and Klee, along with Pablo Picasso and others, was bringing dynamism to visual art again.

This animated GIF shows the Klee's original and the Google Doodle.

Speaking in an ArtFund video (see clip above) about a 2014 Klee exhibition at London’s Tate Modern gallery, art historian Rosie Rockel describes Klee’s style of “using rectangles as a basic building block, which he combined like musical notes, to create a harmony of colors.” It’s easy to see how those rectangles and triangles are used in “Rote Brücke,” both by the anonymous artist at Google, and by Klee.

A stylized version of the portrait of Paul Klee, photographed in 1911 by Alexander Eliasberg.
A stylized version of the portrait of Paul Klee, photographed in 1911 by Alexander Eliasberg.

Klee’s life was mostly spent in Germany, though travels to Tunisia when he was young inspired him to paint with more color. He later served in World War I, something he did not enjoy or support, but continued to paint throughout the war, gaining fame while doing so.

As Hitler rose to power, Klee was named in a Nazi newspaper for being Jewish, which saw him fired from his teaching position, and resulted in the Gestapo searching his home. He painted “Struck from the List” in response to being essentially forced to leave Germany. He headed for Switzerland, the homeland of his late mother, but the country didn’t grant him citizenship until six days after his death, partially due to his pioneering artistic style that wasn’t accepted by conventional minds of the time.

An artist in a soldier's uniform. Klee is in the center of this photo shot during World War I.
An artist in a soldier's uniform. Klee is in the center of this photo shot during World War I.

Klee continued to be a prolific artist, but unlike Picasso, who lived to see his 90s, Klee died earlier in life from a painful condition known as scleroderma, which he contracted in his mid 50s.

Today, you can see Klee’s works in museums, and many are in the public domain, freeing them for public use and adaption, as Google did with its Doodle to honor his life and work.