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BC McMullen Museum Presents "Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision; From Nature to Art"

exhibition on display september 1 – december 9, 2012

Paul Klee (1879–1940), Agricultural Experimental Layout for Late Fall (Agricultur Versuchs anlage für den Spätherbst), 1922 Pen and watercolor on paper on cardboard, 18.6 x 30.1 cm, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, Gift of Jere Abbott, 1970.016

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (August 2012) — The McMullen Museum of Art presents an exclusive exhibition, Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision; From Nature to Art, that is the first to focus on the relationship between philosophy and Klee’s prolific artistic oeuvre, and to reveal the broad impact the artist has had on recent philosophical thought. Some of the most prominent European philosophers of the twentieth century engaged with the artist’s works.

On display September 1 through December 9, 2012, the exhibition demonstrates how Klee’s groundbreaking theories—of nature, words, and music as developed in his writings and lectures—are translated into form, line, and color in his works of art. The exhibition also reveals Klee as an astute critic of modern society, especially with regard to the impact of technology and the political failures that led to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision comprises more than 65 watercolors, drawings, etchings, illustrations, and oil paintings. A catalogue published by the McMullen Museum, and an audio tour and screening of films on Klee’s life, and works supplement the exhibition, in addition to an international conference in October (more below).

“The McMullen is pleased to present this first exhibition examining Paul Klee as both a seminal artist and philosophical thinker of the twentieth century. The exhibition reflects the new scholarship of fifteen leading philosophers and art historians published in the accompanying catalogue to demonstrate how Klee’s theories on nature, words, and music are manifest visually in his paintings, drawings, and prints,” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

Paul Klee (1879–1940), Roofs (After an Impression near the Milch Haus) (Dächer [nach e. Impr. beim Milchhäusl]), 1915, Watercolor on paper on cardboard, 21.6 x 14.3 cm, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA, Anonymous loan, 2004.L3.5

The exhibition displays a large number of outstanding works lent by the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland. Others come from the Beyeler Museum, Boston Public Library, Colby College Museum of Art, Columbus Art Museum, Davis Museum and Cultural Center (Wellesley College), Harvard Art Museums, Houghton Library (Harvard University), Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Phillips Collection, Saint Louis Art Museum, and Smith College Museum of Art.

[MEDIA NOTE: Images available on request from the McMullen: please call Kate Shugert at 617.552.4676 or e-mail Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at]

Exhibition Curators
Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision; From Nature to Art
, is organized by the McMullen Museum and curated by John Sallis, Frederick J. Adelmann, SJ Professor of Philosophy in Boston College’s Philosophy Department, in consultation with BC Fine Arts Department Professors Claude Cernuschi and Jeffery Howe.

“This exhibition is the first to explore the relation between Klee’s artistic works and his theoretical reflections on art as expressed in his essays, lectures, and diaries. Its aim is to understand how Klee’s thought is exemplified in his art and how, on the other hand, his art serves to extend and articulate his thought,” says Sallis.

Public Opening Celebration: Sunday, September 2, 7-9:30 p.m.
On Sunday, September 2, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., the public is invited to join BC community members at a free opening celebration with a special evening viewing at the Museum, in Devlin Hall Room 101. For information visit

Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision; From Nature to Art
Swiss-born painter Klee (1879–1940)—who completed more than 9000 works—was profoundly affected by his experiences with nature. The exhibition first explores how Klee’s early appreciation of interacting with the natural world manifested itself in his works and teaching style. From 1921 to 1931, Klee taught at the Bauhaus, the renowned German school of art, design and architecture. His notes, sketchbooks, and diagrams for his Bauhaus classes provide insight into his philosophical thinking. Some diagrams are reproduced in the exhibition alongside facsimiles of his fascinatingly complex notebooks.

Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision also delves into Klee’s concepts of creation and visibility; how movement and balance are captured by line, form and point; notions of fantasy and the imaginary in art; art’s relationship with words and music; and theories of existence.

A selection of sketches from 1933, laden with violent imagery, reveals Klee as an astute critic of modern society, especially of the political failures that led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazis branded Klee’s art as “degenerate,” and he was denounced in newspapers and fired from his teaching position at the Düsseldorf Academy. Several works in the exhibition show how strongly the worsening climate in Germany affected Klee, although he was never politically active. In 1933 he left the country to spend his last years in his hometown of Bern, Switzerland.

The exhibition concludes with a selection of works that brings the relationship between artist and philosopher full circle, including a 1940 sketch of a philosopher that whimsically recalls Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

Prominent twentieth-century European philosophers engaged with Klee’s works, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Walter Benjamin; they read his writings, viewed, and sometimes purchased, his art. In turn, Klee’s influences are evident in their writings.  

Curator Sallis notes: “Because the artist delves beneath the surface, because he seeks to make visible the hidden origination of things from their primal ground,” he is himself a philosopher. Klee concurred with that concept, as he noted that as an artist, “he is perhaps, without really wanting to be, a philosopher.”

Exhibition Sponsors/Support
The exhibition has been underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the McMullen Museum, and the Newton College Class of 1967, with additional support from swissnex and Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.

Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision
is accompanied by a catalogue, edited by Sallis, that includes essays contributed by fifteen distinguished philosophers and art historians. It features color reproductions of each work in the exhibition as well as a new translation of Klee’s famous lecture, “On Modern Art.”

Public Programming
An international conference on Klee—of the same title as the exhibition—will be held at Boston College on October 17–19, which will focus on the philosophical dimension of Klee’s work as presented in his writings and artistic creations. Sponsored by the University’s Institute for the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Sciences and Philosophy Department, speakers include art historians and philosophers, including leading authorites on Klee’s work. Among them are Michael Baumgartner, Director of Research, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland; Gottfried Boehm, Director of Eikones, Basel, Switzerland and Eliane Escoubas, University of Paris; and BC’s Cernuschi and Howe, among other scholars.

To coincide with the conference, the McMullen Museum will have extended hours on October 17 and 18. At 7 p.m. on October 17, curator John Sallis will lead a gallery talk through the exhibition. 

In addition, a concert performance titled Klee as Music—featuring works inspired by the artist, composed by cellist and composer Peter Schuback of Stockholm—will be given on October 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Gasson Hall Room 100. Musicians include Karolne Rojan (piano), Michael Norsworthy (clarinet), Hans Bohn (trombone), Peter Hanly (violin), and Schuback.

All events are free of charge and open to the public. For more information, visit: /content/bc/centers/ila/events/klee.html

McMullen Museum of Art
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late BC benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours
Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall 101 on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed: September 3, October 8, November 21–22. Restricted parking on the following Saturdays: September 1, 8, 29; October 27; November 10, 17. Docent-led tours will take place from 2-2:45 p.m. every Sunday during the exhibition. Tours also arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call 617.552.8100.

Media Contact: Nancy Netzer, McMullen Museum Director,; 617.552.8587
Public Contact: 617.552.8100;


--Rosanne Pellegrini, Boston College Office of News & Public Affairs