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Family ties: Klee's grandson speaks

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Klee’s only grandson, Alexander, was born in Bulgaria in 1940, the year of his grandfather’s death.

This content was published on May 25, 2005 - 16:27

An artist himself, Alexander is the president of the Paul Klee Foundation and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Paul Klee Centre. He lives in Muri, a suburb of Bern, with his family.

swissinfo: You took over from your father, Felix, as president of the Paul Klee Foundation. Was this a heavy mantle to inherit?

Alexander Klee: No, not at all. You understand that it is your family, your history, it’s your grandfather. You wouldn’t say no to that.

After the death of my father, it was important to continue his work; we always worked together. He was a very good father, who told me: "when I go, you will take over".

It’s a fantastic adventure to open the Paul Klee Centre. We are creating something new and no one knows exactly how it will be, whether it will be right or not, but we will find a way.

swissinfo: Who was Paul Klee to you?

A.K.: He was not a big painter - he was the grandfather I never knew. I was 20 when I realised he was someone important in the history of art... It’s difficult to explain these things.

It was important when I came to Bern as an eight-year-old that my grandfather lived in this city... When I came here, I was a stranger and it was important to hear that he bought his milk in a [certain] little shop, which is still there, and sometimes I try to picture him in his coat and hat.

swissinfo: So, are you the most authentic Klee groupie around?

A.K.: [laughs] Yes, why not? I accept this. It’s not that I love everything because I’m his grandson and it is nothing to do with my direct contact with his work.

It is true I lived in the house of my father in Bern with his paintings on the wall.

I look at the work of my grandfather like I look at the work of Picasso or anyone else.

There are things I like more than others, for example, everything my grandfather did in his last years, such as the simple drawings, with very big lines, containing a very deep expression of the meaning of life.

swissinfo: Why is it that Klee’s works speak to so many people?

A.K.: [They contain] something very intimate; they always tell a story within a small space, like a poem. Klee’s work was between writing and drawing in a certain sense.

He wasn’t like Picasso with Latin energy. He was intellectual and all his paintings are very calm and direct.

swissinfo: How important was Klee’s time in Germany to his artistic development?

A.K: It was very important. At the beginning of his career, he had the choice of going to art school in Munich or Paris - he chose Munich.

[Germany was closer to] his way of thinking. As a professor with the Bauhaus, [he lived out] his idea of working in an intellectual way to construct something.

swissinfo: One great irony is that Klee has gone down in history as a Swiss artist, even though he was not a Swiss national during his lifetime. To what extent was he a Swiss painter?

A.K.: He was absolutely a Swiss painter. He never spoke good German and always had a Bernese accent... [I found out recently that] Klee spoke in Swiss German with [a Swiss colleague] at the Bauhaus, so nobody could understand them in Germany.

[Not being Swiss] was not a problem at first for him, the problem was in later years when he could not identify with Nazi Germany.

The first Klee who became Swiss was my father in the 1960s. I became Swiss at the same time.

swissinfo-interview: Faryal Mirza

In brief

Alexander Klee was born in 1940 in Bulgaria, the year of his grandfather's death.

His father Felix - the only son of Paul - was an opera director; his mother Efrossina was a singer.

An artist by training and vocation, Alexander also worked as a photographer.

He was the brains behind the idea of establishing a centre in Paul Klee's name.

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